The Finnicky Wisdom of Crowds

I was tickled to see Crooked Timber, one of my most-frequented blogs, report on Cosma Shalizi reporting on Scott Page‘s analytic work on diversity. Back home in Ann Arbor, the complexity reading group is meeting on patios to discuss Page’s new book “The Difference”, and I gather Scott (if I may call him Scott) has been showing up to some of the events. Or perhaps he was there for the sangria and decided to stick around. Scott (and I suspect I may call him Scott, I’ve only briefly met him but he seems like a super nice guy) is one of the most engaging presenters I’ve seen and a crackerjack thinker and I’d love to be in on that discussion, whether with or without him. And hey, I like sangria. I’ve not read the book but Cosma Shalizi does his usual great job of boiling down to the sauce of essence, and the basic pitch seems to be: multiple divergent weak hueristics applied serially can solve problems with multiple interacting factors better than a single strong hueristic. Thus groups composed of diverse people can be more successful than homogenous ones. With the caveat that there must be some degree of agreement on what the goals and success criteria are. Cool.

As a perhaps-interesting test case of the idea, Wired has a big fat report up on the results of their “Assignement Zero” project. The idea was to let anybody contribute to an effort to generate a large body of high-quality reporting on a subject, that subject being the ability of distributed crowdsourcing to produce high-quality work. Apparently it played out a little rocky. Apparently there was a great many lessons learned, a certain fraction (estimated at between 1 and 3 quarters of the total) of decent material produced, and apparently a lot of the problems related to people not knowing or agreeing on… what the goals and success criteria for the project were. Interesting.

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