If the Big Data revolution has a presiding genius, it is MIT s Alex Sandy Pentland. Read more...
If the Big Data revolution has a presiding genius, it is MIT s Alex Sandy Pentland. Over years of groundbreaking experiments, he has distilled remarkable discoveries significant enough to become the bedrock of a whole new scientific field: social physics. Humans have more in common with bees than we like to admit: We re social creatures first and foremost. Our most important habits of action and most basic notions of common sense are wired into us through our coordination in social groups. Social physics is about idea flow, the way human social networks spread ideas and transform those ideas into behaviors.
Thanks to the millions of digital bread crumbs people leave behind via smartphones, GPS devices, and the Internet, the amount of new information we have about human activity is truly profound. Until now, sociologists have depended on limited data sets and surveys that tell us how people say they think and behave, rather than what they actually do. As a result, we ve been stuck with the same stale social structures classes, markets and a focus on individual actors, data snapshots, and steady states. Pentland shows that, in fact, humans respond much more powerfully to social incentives that involve rewarding others and strengthening the ties that bind than incentives that involve only their own economic self-interest.
Pentland and his teams have found that they can study patterns of information exchange in a social network without any knowledge of the actual content of the information and predict with stunning accuracy how productive and effective that network is, whether it s a business or an entire city. We can maximize a group s collective intelligence to improve performance and use social incentives to create new organizations and guide them through disruptive change in a way that maximizes the good. At every level of interaction, from small groups to large cities, social networks can be tuned to increase exploration and engagement, thus vastly improving idea flow.
Social Physics will change the way we think about how we learn and how our social groups work and can be made to work better, at every level of society. Pentland leads readers to the edge of the most important revolution in the study of social behavior in a generation, an entirely new way to look at life itself."
- ISBN-13: 9781594205651
- ISBN-10: 1594205655
- Publisher: Penguin Press
- Publish Date: January 2014
- Page Count: 300
- Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.97 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-11-25
- Reviewer: Staff
Auguste Comte’s dream of creating a “social physics” is given a 21st-century revival in Pentland’s (Honest Signals) latest. Drawing on research from the last decade, Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, argues that his mathematical social science can predict and shape the behavior of large groups, chiefly through quantifying “idea flow”—the way new ideas spread within and between social groups. This social-network-based view of the world is acquired through research on a grand scale, monitoring the behavior of whole neighborhoods or towns, thus allowing meaningful results to be drawn from gargantuan sample sizes. Information so acquired could, Pentland argues, allow for a “data-driven society,” fully responsive to the undulating needs of large groups of people. There is an enchantingly wonky appeal to Pentland’s ideas, despite the book’s limpid writing and poor analysis. His overarching goal—to get us all to think beyond “markets” and “classes” and adopt a community-centric view of society—deserves attention, along with his privacy and data-ownership plan. However, Pentland often presents his big ideas without specifics, and he devotes little attention to the way social inequality impacts his theory of idea flow. Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Feb.)