Chad Perrin: SOB

24 November 2007

the wisdom of crowds

Filed under: Cognition — apotheon @ 07:09

There’s no such thing as a “wisdom of crowds”. That may sound funny, coming from a former Wikimedia Foundation employee and current Wikipedia/Wikinews proponent like me, but it’s true. It’s not “the wisdom of crowds” that makes Wikipedia work, but the ability to aggregate individual knowledge and save it in a central location.

Collecting people in crowds increases exactly three things with any certainty, and none of them are wisdom:

  1. It increases the likelihood of a single individual member of the crowd surviving against predators.
  2. It increases the effective conservatism of decision-making, not only when consensus (or even majority) decisions are made, but often even individual decisions.
  3. It increases the tendency of individuals within the crowd to excuse their own actions and justify them regardless of how reprehensible those actions may be when contemplated in solitude.

At this moment in time, for me at least, the most interesting of the three is point two — because it implies something quite contrary to the “wisdom of crowds” nonsense people keep yammering on about. Crowds are not wise. The wisdom of a crowd, if anything, is probably roughly equal to the wisdom of its least wise member minus the cube of the number of individuals in the crowd, or something along those lines — assuming wisdom is quantifiable.

The plummeting sense of accountability amongst members of a mob (aka “crowd”) as it grows larger is also somewhat indicative of a distinct lack of wisdom.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License