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Greg Jones

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Is there actually any wisdom displayed by the crowd? Or is it just the latest pet term to describe quantifiable results from chaos? .

Wisdom of the Crowd? Is the crowd capable of showing wisdom in literal terms or is the end result a chaotic decision that superficially resembles wisdom.

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  • Jun 21 2012: I think
    in asking the audience
    you have answered
    your own question
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    Jun 18 2012: I am really not a fan of 'crowd wisdom'.

    Crowd wisdom is a contradiction in terms. The bigger the crowd, the dumber it gets, and actually inversely proportionate to the sum of its collective intelligence.

    However, a crowd is more likely to 'do as they are told' by a charismatic individual.

    If you want conformity, address the crowd. If you want intelligence, ask the individual.
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      Jun 19 2012: It sounds like you are referring to a specific kind of crowd, crowds which are uneducated or mislead, which happens to be the majority of people in most developed countries. However you might have a different opinion about a crowd of educated people.
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        Jun 19 2012: Budimir - you may have a point in some cases. The vehicle of much needed political change in Egypt, for instance, gained its momentum via the force of a crowd in unison. The difference, I think, was that particular crowd had a plausible and charismatic leader in the shape of Gene Sharp, whose book, "From Dictatorship to Democracy" was instrumental in guiding that revolution (among others).

        I still maintain that crowd wisdom is not wisdom at all, if left to its own devices. Without a charismatic guide, crowds become completely chaotic and unbelievably stupid - educated people or not.

        What are your views on the conformity issue? Am I being too cynical by stating that the major reason companies are obsessed with employing "team players" is because they are more compliant than intelligent individuals?

        Thanks for your response.
    • Jul 7 2012: You are assuming what you wanted to prove. What makes you so sure that the "crowd" passively awaits the Charismatic Individual, rather than CREATING the C.I., by a process of applause and elimination.?
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        Jul 14 2012: Hi Shawn - If the process of of applause and elimination could primarily enhance and guide wisdom, then I would agree with you, but I don't think it does - at least not always.

        Applause and elimination bolsters the attractive attributes of strength, courage and charisma first, with wisdom often coming in quite far down in that hierarchy. Crowds listen to those who shout the loudest - not necessarily those who are quietly thoughtful and wise.

        The advertising industry for instance, puts charismatic individuals and celebrities forward to play ambassadorial roles for products that may otherwise be difficult to market. There have been plenty of 'unwise' products marketed this way - until the intervention of science, morality and natural justice injects the much-needed wisdom to overcome the illusory viability of such celebrity-led 'wisdom'.

        I think wisdom is more closely related to solitary introspection, rather than crowded extravertion.
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    Jul 3 2012: The crowd is not wise, but it is useful.

    People in a group are often less rational than individuals but they collectively possess more cognitive power. Projects that harness this power are the most successful using the power of the crowd.

    A good example is the recaptcha and duolingo projects, outlined in the following ted talk.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/luis_von_ahn_massive_scale_online_collaboration.html

    In this example people working together can digitize books and translate the internet. Other examples include the zooniverse project where people all over the world participate in classifyng galaxies and have made discoveries that the computer missed. Ebird is a site that allows bird watchers to submit their observations allowing ornithologists to track changing bird migrations due to climate change.

    What these projects have in common is that people combine there efforts to gather and process information. The actual organisation of this data is done by the people leading the project. It is an act of collaboration, not democracy.
  • Gord G 50+

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    Jun 27 2012: Individuals are heretics until the consensus of the crowd acknowledges their thoughts as wisdom.
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      Jul 1 2012: Technically "heretics" are "pioneers." Eg "pioneer ants"; "pioneer birds" (like an individual grackle not immediately part of the flock). Spreading foragers.

      Many branch out. ...Only some (minority) succeed. Then the flocks follow them to literally greener pastures.

      Why pioneers form is interesting. They are variations (however varis doth form: nature or NURTURE) that don't fit in the group they are generally a part of.

      Flagellum off of cells are pioneers.

      This is something the universe keeps doing. ("Emergent properties".)

      So whenever ones sees a separated wildebeest or a lost little sheep, know that that lost loner is _UNWITTINGLY_ part of group vs group; "kin selection" "meme wars" on the scale of the big picture. (Ie hives of "specialists' form because of cause and effect and energy conversion; all these little hive's unwittingly or DIRECTLY fight each other over energy... "There can be only one[some]" ...Natural selection --which works all the way down to the scale of calorie burn rates between variant molecular chain reactions inside cells(or variant members of bodies/flocks)-- selects the most efficient hive.)

      [When thinking of human pioneers (heretics if you must), some will be crackpots and some will be visionaries, depending on the thousand and one variables that make all individuals different (on the scale of aptitudes, education/scenery experienced etc).]
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    Jun 27 2012: Civilization is the product of crowds (crowds of crowds!!).

    If we were truly individual, every birth would re-start @ the stone-age every time..
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    Jun 26 2012: As a part time libertarian crowd-sourcing anything does not foster real innovation or creativity. Crowd sourcing is focus groups on steroids and do you really want a world designed by focus groups and majorities of mediocre thinking....
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    Jun 15 2012: Crowds are made up of individuals, individuals display wisdom almost always. Crowds as if there is some sort of collective brain? I have not seen any evidence of that especially during: riots, protests, gang fights. I would have to distinguish between an organization and a mob though as an organization is composed of individuals working in cooperation which is obviously different.
  • Jun 15 2012: Structure is the key and it goes both ways.

    An absence of structure turns any abstract form of collaboration into a chaotic mess from which, if you're lucky, you'll see a dictatorship rise and give some form of direction and order.

    Too much structure and you kill creativity, innovation and adaptation. You create a static function which eventually becomes redundant. Think of it like a circuit board which is made of people.

    Even if you hit some Goldilocks balance of structure, you still need to have the right kind of structure. If you don't have the right people in the right place doing the right thing, you lose efficiency.

    This is an abstract concept which effects things as small and temporary as a business meeting and as large and permanent as a nations government.
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      Jun 15 2012: it is interesting that when you talk about structure, you immediately imagine some creating the structure. but in reality, structure emerges naturally in suitable systems, like biological systems or societies. too much or not enough structure can be either temporary or artificially maintained only. the natural state of things is to have just the right amount of structure, or tend toward it. we don't need to manage it.
      • Jun 15 2012: The reason I naturally think of structure as being created rather than naturally forming is because I'm a application developer and applications which I develop are structures which bring order to collaboration.

        You are right though, organisational structures often form and evolve naturally and without a single conscious intent or control.

        That isn't always the case. For better or worse we sometimes find ourselves in a unique position to influence the organisational structure of society. Judges do this when they make interpretative decisions about the implementation of law. Politicians do this when they vote on policy changes.

        Perhaps the most dramatic expression is when you have an overthrown dictator. The population has an opportunity to influence the organisational structure of their nation.

        You probably could argue that a natural evolution is preferable to a consciously designed structure but I don't believe that is universally the case.
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          Jun 15 2012: overthrown dictator is a perfect example of natural order replacing artificial order. it is a good thing in general.

          the opposite would be the rise of a dictator. not a good thing.

          i claim that the more we look, the less appealing artificial order becomes.
        • Jun 15 2012: I would say the rise of a dictator is the natural order. The primitive (natural, if you will) side of human society relates more to the animal kingdom, where "dictatorship" is the normal (again, if you will, natural) order.
          Saying that the rise of an dictator is artificial order, I'm strongly opposed to that belief. Because humans are able to diverge from natural order and replace it with something artificial, we are different from animals.
          Artificial order is what keeps human society and International Relations stable and going, without it we'd be hunting elephants again.
      • Jun 16 2012: Perhaps a better example would be the founding of a nation. The drafting of a bill of rights and a constitution.

        In such an instance you have a small group of people making decisions about how to structure the nation.

        Granted, it's not a single persons will but I think it's hard to look at such an event as a natural evolution.
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          Jun 16 2012: i don!t think nations are created that way. nation exists before some leader, who happen to be exist at the time, come together and discuss things. it is just a small step in the evolution of a nation. or a small step in an history of artificial rulership imposed on that nation.
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    Jul 11 2012: In truth, this is not an "opinion" question. Instead, it is a research question. And there is a lot of evidence suggesting that we are better judges collectively than we are separately. I would invite you to read some of those papers instead of the hype. Many papers on Prediction Markets, and easily studied and quantifiable aspect of the "wisdom of crowds", are available in PDF form via Google Scholar.

    In the "Crowd Wisdom" popularizations I have read, there does seem to be some biases, however. So I would warn you about falling hook, line and sinke for their claims. To inoculate you against this, I would suggest an excellent book by a mathematical Sociologist, "Everything is Obvious (once you know the answer)". The book illustrates some traps we could fall into, however, when thinking about aggregate social issues. For instance, is Justin Beeber that good of a singer? Or is he just the most hyped, and lucky?

    As for the second part of your question, I do not know enough of the math underlying Emergence and Chaos Theory to make a judgement. But it does seem plausible that we may have an anthill-like part of our beings as well which is masked by our ability to reason autonomously.

    Hold the horses, Verne. I feel a Science Fiction story coming on as I am thinking/ writing here...
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    Jul 10 2012: In my opinion, the crowd is not always wise, hundreds of examples could be given, but I think if you are not part of the crowd you will likely be unhappier, regardless of wisdom. People somehow feel the need to fit into a certain society and go with the flow so that they can support, congratulate and empathize with one another. As the saying goes "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"..
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    Jul 1 2012: The concept of "crowd sourcing" doesn't mean the crowd has thought about something. It means the crowd is an incubator that others can analyze; the crowd can be a petry dish, for others to learn from.

    Does a petry dish think about what it germinates?

    Many creatures "crowd source" in nature. Eg species typeA hears species typeB give an alert call (because of some contingency near them that has triggered them [eg leopard]); Species typeA has now been triggered into alert too, by the other crowd it sourced information from.
  • J M

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    Jul 1 2012: Everything simply resembles wisdom --even "deep thoughts" of big neo cortexes.

    Cause and effect created/selected for reflex machines (atoms, molecules, chemistry compounds, cells, tissues, groups of them, etc). "Thinking" is a complex reflex responding to complex contingencies of cause and effect.

    Does a bird flock or fish shoal make freewill decisions?

    How bout a bee hive, a sheep flock? Cells in a group; A multicellular organism?...
  • Jun 30 2012: I see that as a "pet term" as you put it. There is no "wisdom" in crowds by nature. There is something we don't learn very much about in western education (because of it's grounding in competition) called "synergy" which can be mistaken as wisdom. Synergy is the coming together of two or more individuals perhaps out of a "crowd" whom together achieve what none would have conceived of on their own. It's usually said "the creation of a new whole greater than the sum of its parts", but that doesn't do it justice IMO. Crowds are more likely to produce "mobs" than "synergies", yet "crowd-sourcing" is the buzzword given to open innovation. My personal experience is that crowdsourcing is rather primitively practiced by such organizations as Innocentive. They tout "crowd-sourcing" but really just offer a prize to solve an objective someone in industry or philanthropy is trying to solve and no one except the winner gets to know anything more about the processes or efforts. As serious commitment to open innovation I think would cultivate progress in a solver community by using every feedback mechanism possible to let people know at least if they figured in the top ten or five or whatever and why they failed to win so that they can improve.

    To call this model of rewarding one or two people and totally dissing everyone else by not providing any way to get better at it, crowd-sourcing may be accurate--the crowd is an unknown but also and un-cared-for view that the crowd is more important than its members and only what they pick implies any merit or value at all. To me that is primitive for this age and the potentials of internetorwked computing. Just a first step in a longer process that some day could be much more productive and progressive. There is value in failure--if you are at least aloud to know why you failed. If you are not given that, you are simply not valued unless you hit the nail they are looking for someone to hammer.
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    Jun 27 2012: Stressing the definiton of wisdom on Wikipedia, this term does not apply for cowds in any case. For example there was a fire spreading out rapidly in a football stadium, it would be more than wise for the crowd to remain calm, as it increases the chance for more people to get out of this danger unharmed. In this highest need for wisdom in this situation, the chances are increasing rapidly that the cowd is going to panic instead. Even though most of the people in the stadium would be far enough from the sorce of the fire at its beginning, the people who are not would push for their escape and thereby initiate a chain reaction of horror which then takes over the crowd regardless the standing position of each individual. The overall result could be disastrous and usually it is. Admitting that this example may be extreme and that also individuals can panic on their very own, yet it may displays what a crowd is mainly driven by: 'herd instinct'. Assuming that insinct is neither a 'good friend' nor essential to wisdom I do not believe that wisdom will be able to form within crowds. The IQ's of individuals are not additive within a crowd they form, on the contrary, otherwise we would see different news on TV each day, don't you think? If a crowd shows signs of intelligent behaviour it may only be the statistical result of individual decisions summed up by 'followers' to a whole. Yet it seems quite randomly and unstable to me in many cases. What a crowd can do is to offer 'protection' for an individual on which revolutions are based on. But it takes the 'right time' and many brave little steps of a minority to encourage the majority. But once it starts rolling it gets a large momentum out of the crowd itself and this in a very short period of time. This indeed is the nightmare of any dictatorship and this is why they keep individuals diversed as best as they possibly can: by terror and fear. So if there was any collective wisdom, we would see more change on this planet ...
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    Jun 26 2012: I think it all depends of the time scale we use to judge the result of what the crowd do : if the human specie is unnecessary, destroying itself seems a logical goal, for life is supported only by necessity (it is a result). Being a necessity can only be verified to be true in a one-to-one relation : groups can not be a necessity, because they are imaginary structures.
  • Jun 24 2012: Human crowds can be Scarry. However, if animals can act in positive ways why can't we act positively in crowds. Cartainly, I hope so.
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    Jun 21 2012: Oh, yes. There is a wisdom demonstrtated by large groups. You just have to make sure you are looking for what is there not what you want to be there. This wisdom is knowledge which can be gained and understood by regular folk. So while they will not know obscure stuff or stuff you learn in advanced classes, they will embody specific knowledge of the necessary sort - they know where the cliffs are and the herd is not walking off cliffs, they know where the best deals are, they know how to make some recipe you remember your grandmother making.
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    Jun 21 2012: I would like to know the size of the crowd,the average age, and the question or problem they must solve before I could give an answer. I enjoyed Mr. Thompson and mr. Berkhout debate. I think they were useing a rather large groud for a crowd but very lively
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    Jun 20 2012: Very interesting debate, however, most comments below seem to reflect the fact most are absolutely oblivious to the "Wisodom Of Crowds" as a phenomena.. pioneered by Sir Fancis Galton's findings at a fair!

    Sir Francis was himself convinced of what most are expressing below that crowds (and indeed the masses) were utterly unable to come to a good decision, with the examples of mobs, gangs etc.. He even went as far as denigrating democracy as a concept, however his findings that day changed his mind in an unexpected way...

    ^^ All this is in the book "The Wisdom Of Crowds" ..where it explains the key characteristics of a decision market :
    DIVERSITY, INDEPENDENCE & DECENTRALISATION

    >> the real key lies in satisfying these conditions.
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        Jun 26 2012: Hia,

        A great crowd would be one (according to the book) that is DIVERSE (as in not a specialised group of people such as just accountants or just children..)
        it would also have to be INDEPENDENT during the assessment (they don't share their information before congregating the info, the complete opposite of a jury).
        & finally DECENTRALIZED, not a crowd ordered about in a hierachical system..

        You can try it @ home lol : Get a big pot of sweets, get as many people as u can to assess how many there are in the pot (they must write it down, BUT NOT SHARE!!!) >> then count them urself, & make an average of the guesses ; According to theory the more participants u have, the more likely the average guess WILL BE CLOSER TO THE TRUTH than the best guess!!!

        Now is that not fascinating??
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        Jun 27 2012: A crowd doesn't necessarily have those pre requisites, infact, unless it's been well organized, it most likely won't.

        It's a strange phenomena.. no less interesting to observe than 'synchronicity' for example.. However the concept isn't mainstream for some reason?

        Yes, if we all guessed the answer to how many sweets (or anything else) there was in a jar, the more people participate, the more likely the AVERAGE will be the best bet! Most people don't know that!

        However, if people share their guesses, the average result goes way off.. which explains why just taking any disorganized crowd is a aimless debate...

        I reckon you would enjoy reading the book Myfanwy!
        c u
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        Jun 28 2012: it's called "Wisdom Of Crowds".. amazon has it.. u would be interested very much I's thinks
  • Jun 19 2012: I believe that anyone intending an honest opposition to crowd wisdom should first read the book "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki. In the book he explains that given that certain criteria (diversity, independence, decentralization, and aggregation) are met, the crowd can be more intelligent than any individual member in the crowd or even an expert outside of the crowd.
    • Jun 20 2012: You are right, but Surowiecki takes cover behind his 'criteria'. You know that the modern group of consumers does in no way meet those criteria, and if the criteria are forced on the group, it's called positive/negative discrimination. This is why democracy does not work for extended periods of time.
      Democracy relies on wisdom of the crowd, as it was with the public representatives in Greece. What we have done is transform it into the idea that power lies within the *individual* rather than in the people/group. Democracy is just everyone trying to force his own opinion into society, we are more individualistic than ever.
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    Jun 19 2012: I think the right answer might be 'it depends'.

    For instance some say that 'the market knows' when it comes to economic/political matters. But the market is often just an example of group-think rather than the wisdom of crowds.
    • Jun 20 2012: The market is not in any way a form of groupthink, it is an automated process driven by speculation on supply and demand.
      While groupthink definitely is a problem with the wisdom of the crowds; it relies on the level of cohesiveness of the group (do the members have a natural or personal tendency to agree in the first place, before arguments are made?), the structure (is there a strong leader-figure who carries a power position over the other members?),the situational context (is there little time to make the decision, "code red"?), and transparency of the group (do experts have access to the discussion? Or are people aware of the decisions that are taken).

      Groupthink is a political process that has been the driving force in western democracies since the Cold War, but it has nothing to do with market equilibrium.
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        Jun 20 2012: I disagree.

        The market, and the speculators that make it/drive it, is guided by economic theories. The forming of these (academic) economic theories are not immune from the pressures that are typical of group-think. In fact, they seem particularly susceptible to these pressures.

        For instance, the current neo-liberal approach to economics routinely fails to look sufficiently at alternatives, displays massive data bias, is overly optimistic in terms of risk-taking, etc.

        The deregulation of financial markets by politicians (at the bidding of economists and the markets)that gathered ever-increasing pace since somewhere in the seventies saw politicians join in this group-think.

        The global economic collapse that emerged fully in 2008 is a result of listening to the markets. Group-think quietened the voices and thinking that could have prevented it happening. Market-led group-think is currently paralysing the European Union and plunging countries such as Greece into despair.

        The market is often portrayed (basically by itself) as an efficient process driven by supply and demand, an 'invisible hand' (as Adam Smith put it) that self-regulates. If it ever was, it certainly isn't now. The 'purity' of supply and demand has been distorted by things such as derivatives, and other dubious financial gambits. The market is not an automated process as it is not rational - chaos is always present.

        Economics (and hence the market) is a social science that is very much prone to group-think - do economists, financial journalists etc have a tendency to (in a broad sense) agree? Absolutely - especially if they want a successful career.
        • Jun 20 2012: Almost all of what you say is true, and i agree 100% that the economic market is rigid, not transparent enough and chaotic. It is just not susceptible to groupthink, while it is very similar. In political and social science, groupthink happens in close knit groups of *decisionmaking*, not in something as abstract and large as *the market* or in an *economic theory*.

          Also since the late 1930's interference in the world market by governments has decreased significantly, this is obscured by the fact that by then many international monetary banks were set up, and international cash flows increased due to international trade booming, and the exchange rates that had a large impact on many national economies (according to the Keynesian model). However, this was natural economic behavior, following from the introduction of floating exchange rates. This has very little to do with groupthink. Overall, governments started interfering *less* in the economy, especially after what happened after the first global monetary crisis (fall of the gold standard), not a single government has since dared to take sever economic measures that interfere in the market.

          I do agree with you that the economic bias that is holding the EU captive right now in dealing with the euro-crisis may seem strongly related to a groupthink incident, were it not for the fact that the huge discussion, slow descisionmaking and switching of positions makes it entirely the opposite of what constitutes the concept of groupthink (which is spelled without an hyphen)

          The economic market suffers from *structural institutional flaws*. Groupthink is a *spontaneous occurrence* that is created by the "wrong" composition of a small group of people that have to make a quick decision.

          If you wanna read about groupthink, this is probably the best contemporary work: http://www.worldcat.org/title/groupthink-versus-high-quality-decision-making-in-international-relations/oclc/699670351&referer=brief_results
  • Jun 18 2012: Hello Greg
    I will try to give a few examples of crowd and wisdom in history where a productive end was a result. My favorite first is the peacefull protests of Martin Luther King which helped in the civil rights movement. Another is when the Berlin wall was torn down. When changes were made in South Africa with apartide. Not all crowds breed chaos. The truth is sometimes it takes a crowd using wisdom to make a positive change in society.
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    Jun 18 2012: If there is a prevalent opinion among a crowd of people, it is likely that there is a source of common knowledge which is accountable for this trend. Unless all these people spontaneously come up with the same opinion and this opinion is unrelated to common knowledge. Which is certainly possible but it's highly improbable. For instance what are the chances that all doctors will give you a similar diagnosis if none of them have a background in medicine? So is the wisdom of crowds "real" wisdom? Well that depends on the source of knowledge, what kind of knowledge would you consider wise knowledge. Is it pragmatic knowledge, is it knowledge from experience or knowledge that comes with age?
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    Jun 15 2012: crowd and wisdom ........... honestly, I don't know of any other two more opposite words .
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    Jun 14 2012: Many protest rallys are started in good faith with a cause and goal. I see crowds rioting downtown areas if their team wins or if they lose. They loot, burn, pillage, and cost the city millions in damages, police involvement, and destruction of cars and buildings. One of the latest is the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Interviews after interview proved that there was no central cause or reason for their actions. We all watched the unions join in the OWC but for what reason is unsure. OWS was originally in response to Obama's fight against the 1% which never made sense because those are the donors to election campaigns. The better reason is to take attention away from the existing political problems so spin doctors devise a diversion.

    History has shown that good speakers can ignite crowds to action. Plants in the crowd are essential for raising the excitement level. Socialism and unions require that supporters follow blindly. Members in Kansas do not care about what happens in New York but they support it. They require your body the wisdom and thinking will be supplied. The media is always sucked in and plays a major role in spreading the word and gathering supporters.

    Probally 90% of all crowds are sheeple. Historically the path to change has been violance.

    All the best. Bob
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    Jun 14 2012: surely the latter. but nobody claimed otherwise. swarm intelligence is not exactly intelligent. evolution is dumb as hell, yet it brought about the ecosystem with its extreme sophisticated complexity.
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      Jun 14 2012: I do not think crowd action has anything to do with wisdom. It is action that is usually precipitated by an intolerable situation and motivated by survival in some way. So when you have a mob action against a particular person, that person is viewed as a threat. I honestly think that crowd or mob action is precipitated by a part of our being that is instinctual rather than rational. As it is not rational, I do not think that wisdom has anything to do with it. I think it happens at a lower part of our brain.

      And chaos is the intended result so a new normal can be developed.
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        Jun 14 2012: I agree, Linda, that crowd action is not wisdom even if it sometimes has good results. There are good bandwagons and bad bandwagons and good and bad reasons people have for jumping aboard.