Big Data, Social Physics and the Value of Face to Face Interactions

What has always been the challenge of social scientists?  The limited, unreliable and more often than not subjective data with which the must work.

Well, according to Alex “Sandy” Pentland, director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and author of Social Physics, computer networks will remedy these shortcomings. Tapping into the data that flows through mobile devices, search engines, social media, and credit card payment systems, scientists will be able to collect precise, real-time and reliable information on the behavior of millions.

Once we have this data Pentland asserts that science will be able to accurately predict how people will behave in a given situation and accurately assess how information flows through a network of individuals.  And once we know how information flows it can be optimized.

In a recent TedX Talk Pentland gives us the mathematical run down on whether social networks and their ability to spread awareness really contribute as much as they say to improving peoples knowledge and decision making.  The assessment is perhaps predictably both yes and no.

There is no doubt that social networks have contributed greatly to global awareness of a great many issues.  However, as Pentland explains his talk social networks tend to create what are referred to as “echos” where the same information is presented over and over again leading to narrowly informed opinions and ultimately decisions.

In addition, a study performed by Pentland and his team within a local organization uncovered that ultimately virtual interactions contributed very little to the ideas generated and used during group decision making and problem solving when compared to the face to face networking within the organization.

The take home message and Kingbridge insight this week; until social scientists can tap that well of raw data waiting for us in server farms around the world, the most effective and productive interactions- particularly within organizations- still occur face to face.  When we are face to face we can read reactions, question and challenge far more effectively than via social platforms.  In person interactions still come out on top when looking for quality group decisions.

This entry was posted in Collective Intellegence, Group Dynamics, Social Media, Technology by John. Bookmark the permalink.

About John

“John Abele is a pioneer and leader in the field of less-invasive medicine, For more than four decades, John has devoted himself to innovation in health care, business and solving social problems.” He is retired Founding Chairman of Boston Scientific Corporation. John holds numerous patents and has published and lectured extensively on the technology of various medical devices and on the technical, social, economic, and political trends and issues affecting healthcare. His major interests are science literacy for children, education, and the process by which new technology is invented, developed, and introduced to society. Current activities include Chair of the FIRST Foundation which works with high school kids to make being science-literate cool and fun, and development of The Kingbridge Centre and Institute, a conferencing institution whose mission is to research, develop, and teach improved methods for interactive conferencing: problem solving, conflict resolution, strategic planning, new methods for learning and generally help groups to become “Collectively intelligent.” He lives with his wife and two dogs in Shelburne, Vermont.”

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