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Social Physics: How Social Networks Can Make Us Smarter (Inglese) Copertina flessibile – 27 gen 2015
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“Social Physics is filled with rich findings about what makes people tick. Using millions of data points measured over a long period of time in real settings, which Pentland calls ‘living laboratories,’ the author has monitored human behavior on an unprecedented scale…Pentland’s research also offers lessons for policymakers and business people. He advances a new way to protect privacy by creating something of a property right for personal information…Social Physics is a fascinating look at a new field by one of its principal geeks.”
“A fascinating view of the future of social networks that offers intriguing possibilities.”
John Abele, Co-Founder, Boston Scientific:
“Understanding, predicting and influencing human behavior has been the goal of social scientists (and leaders anywhere) since the beginning of time. Pentland’s Social Physics is a major contribution to this field. By using communication tracking analysis and occasionally human sensors along with big data, he and his team are evolving a new discipline with a unique taxonomy and ontology that brings a higher level of quantification and rigor to a challenging and inherently complex field. Like Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds it will spawn further work and research in a rapidly expanding new body of knowledge.”
John Seely Brown, Former Chief Scientist, Xerox Corporation and director of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC):
“Read this book and you will look at tomorrow differently. Reality mining is just the first step on an exciting new journey. Social Physics opens up the imagination to what might now be measurable and modifiable. It also hints at what may lie beyond Adam Smith’s invisible hand in helping groups, organizations and societies reach new levels of meaning creation. This is not just social analytics. It also offers pragmatic ways forward.”
Reed E. Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, CEO of the Coalition for Green Capital:
“From his MIT aerie, eagle-eyed Alex Pentland has seen the future. His wise and stimulating book teaches us how ideas spring up, flow, and spread. Applying his lessons, we can act collectively to solve previously intractable social, economic and political problems. We can make organizations more productive. We can even have government achieve its proper purposes, with greater fairness and less cost. As challenges like widening inequality and runaway climate change seem to exceed our ability to design solutions, Pentland’s data-driven, reality-based, yet sunny optimism about tomorrow should be eagerly welcomed by all readers.”
Stephen M. Kosslyn, Former Dean of Social Science, Harvard University; Former Director, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University; Founding Dean, Minerva Schools at KGI:
“Sandy Pentland lives in the future—and it shows. This book will not only whisk you up to speed on cutting-edge research at the interface of technology, behavioral science, and the social world, but it will also give you a good sense of what could be next. Professor Pentland brilliantly analyzes how new ideas flow and how, with the emergence of the ‘data-driven society,’ they will increasingly influence every aspect of our lives.”
Alex "Sandy" Pentland directs MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program and co-leads the World Economic Forum Big Data and Personal Data initiatives. He helped create and direct MIT’s Media Laboratory, the Media Lab Asia laboratories at the Indian Institutes of Technology, and Strong Hospital’s Center for Future Health. His research group and entrepreneurship program have spun off more than thirty companies to date. In 2012 Forbes named Pentland one of the seven most powerful data scientists in the world. His research has been featured in Nature, Science, and Harvard Business Review.
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Recently, however, new digital technology has opened up a whole new way to study human behavior. This proves to be the case since mobile devices and sensors of all kinds are now able to record a dizzying array of human activity—everything from where we go, to what we buy, to whom we interact with and for how long, to our body language, and even our moods etc. When placed in the hands of social scientists these new sources of information can prove very valuable (and are far preferable than either surveys or lab experiments); for they allow scientists to study us in our natural environments—out in the real world—and they also allow scientists to study what we actually do, rather than what we say (which are sometimes quite different).
The method of investigating human behavior in our natural environments using digital technology has come to be called reality mining, and it is revolutionizing the social sciences.
One of the pioneers and leaders in the field of reality mining is Alex Pentland, a researcher out of MIT. Pentland’s main field of interest is using reality mining to explore the properties and patterns of interactions between people—what he calls social physics. Specifically, Pentland uses reality mining to investigate the social physics in a wide range of groups and situations, from social and peer groups; to social media platforms; to institutional settings such as schools and businesses; to even whole cities. And in his new book Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science Pentland takes time out to catch us up on his findings.
One of Pentlands’s main findings thus far has to do with the importance of social interaction in influencing our behavior. Indeed, Pentland has found that much of our behavior is dominated by the influence of our close relations and the peer groups we are embedded in—everything from our diet and body weight to our political opinions and all things in between.
The influence of our social world is so great, in fact, that Pentland argues it is much more appropriate to think of ourselves as group-oriented than self-directed. This is important because Western society as a whole tends to take the opposite view. The result is that many of our policies and institutions are ill-fitted to our true nature—which leads to less than desirable outcomes. Thankfully, Pentland does offer some advice with regards to how we can re-design our policies and institutions in a way that better accommodates our nature.
A second of Pentland’s main findings has to do with how ideas and behavior spread through human interactions and groups—and also, and even more important, what kinds of interactions produce the best results in terms of generating the most creative and productive ideas.
Specifically, Pentland has found that the most creative and productive groups tend to have something very important in common: the group members have numerous interactions with highly diverse people outside of the group, and the group members are also highly connected to one another.
In terms of explaining why this pattern works best Pentland argues that the interactions outside of the group are important in becoming familiar with many different types of ideas, while the interactions within the group function to winnow out what are the best ideas, and also help build common norms of behavior and trust that allow the group to work well and cooperatively together.
I was happy to get the opportunity to learn about a very new and promising science from one of its leading practitioners. Many of the ‘living lab’ experiments outlined in the book are very interesting and I certainly learned a lot. My only complaints are that the book does have a fair bit of repetition and jumps around some, so I question the writing and organization a bit. All in all, though, a very good and interesting read about a new field that we are sure to hear more from moving forward.
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As another commentator put it, the book feels like an academic resumé, and I'd add it also feels like a brochure for the companies the author has found (along with his students). This academic nepotism is bluntly paradoxical, being a book about cooperation, ideas flow, social intelligence and the importance of diversity and exploration of external ideas.
It feels sad to give 3 stars to a book that has great contents, but it would be very easy for the author to have expanded the already interesting ideas, connecting them with the work of many other great thinkers and well stablished approaches; the book would gain so much.
Its a broad, non-academic introduction, and at times almost comes across an infomercial, an opportunity for the author to tout his many start-ups. That's OK if you want to hire Pentland or MIT, but if you're looking for a thorough introduction to the field, I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere.
The book is split into four parts. The first starts by discussing how ideas are generated and how we can improve our decision making. The author discusses his ideas about the flow of ideas and the need to learn from others but be weary of ideas which echo one another too much. He uses real world examples from trading site etoro to discuss the benefits of idea sharing but the dangers of too much idea overlap. The author discusses how habits and ideas are developed using results from behavioural science and tries to distinguish between the ways in which we are influenced and how social pressures can strongly influence us. The author then moves on to the second part named idea machines. The author discusses how the way we interact with one another have strong influence on productivity and creativity and that group dynamics are more important than individual intelligence. The author constantly sites experiments he and his students have done to reinforce these hypothesis put forward. The author discusses how incentivizing people to be engaged in their social networks can help adapt to change and make us more robust to the unexpected situations we will face. The author then moves on to the hypothetical potentials he sees for the future. He thinks about the ways in which smart cities will have the right mix of idea sharing but not too much exploration which increase crime as people lose familiarity and interaction which leads to loss of trust. He discusses ways in which sociometric devices will prepare us to better weather epidemics and inequality. The author then moves on to the future with a society in which people have access to large amounts of data about society at large. He discusses the need for privacy standards but with those in place, the utility of big data. The author addresses some relatively untied concepts like free will and how social influence and free will are distinct ideas but tries to reinforce that this new field of social physics can facilitate more egalitarian society with greater human potential and greater economic efficiency.
Social physics is interesting and the ideas make sense. Idea generation as being a consequence of recombining old ideas and therefore immersion to various independent ideas is a productive exercise for the individual is not this authors idea, it was discussed a long time ago in economics. There is a lot of self promotion and the conclusiveness of the author's work must be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, the ideas are definitely interesting and important food for thought, i think there is much that is beneficial about the path the author is focused on and the solution his group used in the DARPA challenge presented in the book was ingenious (though a little bit contrary to a conclusion claimed earlier that economic incentives are not effective relative to social influence ones, i encourage the review reader to read the book so that this commentary makes more sense!). All in all I recommend this and it is a look into a potential future that might be soon upon us.
So how do we internalize new ideas and turn them into habitual behavior? Through social physics.
Social Physics is the qualitative social science that describes reliable, mathematical connections between information and idea flow on the one hand and people’s behavior on the other. Social physics helps us understand how ideas flow from one person to another through the mechanism of social learning and how this flow of ideas ends up shaping the norms, productibvity, and creative output of companies, cities, and societies.
Mr. Pentland makes a cogent argument that our ability to survive and prosper is due to social learning and social influence at least as much as it is due to individual rationality. His research shows that people’s desires and their decisions about how to act are often, and perhaps typically, dominated by social network effects.