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The Wisdom of Crowds

Wisdom of CrowdsBy James Surowiecki
Review by Chris (Mathematics)

A problem shared is a problem halved, goes the old saying. But what happens if you share a problem with millions of people? Are you left with a millionth of a problem? Or just lots of useless suggestions?

This is the question that James Surowiecki tackles in his book: The Wisdom of Crowds. The wisdom of the crowd is the process of taking into account a large group’s answers to a question. This answer has generally been found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals within the group.

Before coming to university I didn’t really know what I wanted to study. This book showed to me that mathematics underpins everything. The numerous case studies in the book show that its applications are endless. For instance, the phenomenon of “the wisdom of the crowds” has been harnessed by Google. They have found a way of tapping into the wisdom of the biggest crowd on earth and in doing so they have been able to reveal the forces that control our lives and harness them to make predictions about us. For example, they have created a program which is able to predict the outbreak of flu before people have caught it, therefore giving doctors valuable time to prepare for the influx of new patients.

This book motivated me to do my own research into the wisdom of crowds. I replicated an experiment done by Frances Galton in 1906 and to my surprise the results were astonishingly accurate. I was amazed that a concept as simple as taking the mean of a set of values could come up with such powerful results. I would encourage you to read this book with an open mind. I hope that you, like me, will get satisfaction from reading it and be motivated to try this powerful idea out for yourself.

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
ISBN-10: 0349116059
ISBN-13: 978-0349116051

Try checking the availability of this book at your school or local library or explore second hand bookshops and websites. You may also wish to purchase from either Amazon or Blackwell’s.

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