A Couple of Examples of Real Talk

Example One:

The tools and theories needed to analyze social interactions are just now reaching the level of sophistication — in accuracy, in robustness – necessary to leave the lab and enter commercial duty. We are in a period analogous to the early 1970s, when developments like the Capital Asset Pricing Model and the Black-Scholes equation transformed finance, changing it from an art to a science, and opening enormous new markets in the process. Now, new equations describing “crowd dynamics” are about to change our lives. And not always for the better. This is one of the most significant technology trends I have seen in years; it may also be one of the most pernicious.

But why is this technology only emerging now, not fifteen or twenty years ago? For any technology, there are only three possible answers to this question: Moore’s law, the Internet, or the government. In the case of crowd dynamics, we have the last two to thank. The Internet has made the problem tractable by providing huge, easily-collected data sets of social interactions. But the government has been the real enabler. Just follow the money: nearly every relevant research project received funding from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

I believe that crowd theory is inherently pernicious because it fundamentally relies on a simplified model of individual behavior. I’m not saying these models aren’t useful, or don’t offer real predictive accuracy. They are and they do. But by treating people as statistical stick-figures, we cheapen ourselves and, somehow, become less human.

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Example Two:


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