Friday, January 6, 2017

Duncan Green — Book Review: Social Physics : How Social Networks can make us Smarter

Social Physics is not a new idea. Auguste Comte, the founder of modern sociology, coined the phrase back in the 19th century. Comte and his crew aspired to explain social reality by developing a set of universal laws—the sociological equivalent of physicists’ quest to create a theory of everything. As with economics, that kind of physics envy has proved largely delusional. Now though, Pentland argues that the arrival of Big Data means we can aspire to a ‘thermodynamics of society’, where behaviour is governed by discernible mathematical laws. It does not deny free will – Pentland does not claim to be able to predict individual behaviour, but finds a high degree of certainty in mass behaviours, which appear to follow particular patterns (like atoms in a gas). 
Big Data allows us to move from describing society in terms of stocks (equilibria, population, education and health status) to real time flows (of information, ideas, contacts) and this transforms are ability both to understand and accelerate human progress.
The two most important concepts in SP are
  • Idea flow within social networks, and how it can be separated into exploration (finding new ideas/strategies) and engagement (getting everyone to coordinate their behaviour)
  • Social learning, which is how new ideas become habits, and how learning can be accelerated and shaped by social pressure...
From Poverty to Power
Book Review: Social Physics : How Social Networks can make us Smarter
Duncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam GB

No comments: