Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge

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Overview


The rise of the "information society" offers not only considerable peril but also great promise. Beset from all sides by a never-ending barrage of media, how can we ensure that the most accurate information emerges and is heeded? In this book, Cass R. Sunstein develops a deeply optimistic understanding of the human potential to pool information, and to use that knowledge to improve our lives.

In an age of information overload, it is easy to fall back on our own prejudices and insulate ourselves with comforting opinions that reaffirm our core beliefs. Crowds quickly become mobs. The justification for the Iraq war, the collapse of Enron, the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia--all of these resulted from decisions made by leaders and groups trapped in "information cocoons," shielded from information at odds with their preconceptions. How can leaders and ordinary people challenge insular decision making and gain access to the sum of human knowledge?

Stunning new ways to share and aggregate information, many Internet-based, are helping companies, schools, governments, and individuals not only to acquire, but also to create, ever-growing bodies of accurate knowledge. Through a ceaseless flurry of self-correcting exchanges, wikis, covering everything from politics and business plans to sports and science fiction subcultures, amass--and refine--information. Open-source software enables large numbers of people to participate in technological development. Prediction markets aggregate information in a way that allows companies, ranging from computer manufacturers to Hollywood studios, to make better decisions about product launches and office openings. Sunstein shows how people can assimilate aggregated information without succumbing to the dangers of the herd mentality--and when and why the new aggregation techniques are so astoundingly accurate.

In a world where opinion and anecdote increasingly compete on equal footing with hard evidence, the on-line effort of many minds coming together might well provide the best path to infotopia.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This extraordinary work synthesizes the latest in how we know, with the latest in what the web has become to map more compellingly than any other book the promise and risk of the information society. As with everything Sunstein writes, this beautiful and clear book has something to teach the experts, and lots to teach the rest of us."--Lawrence Lessig, author of Free Culture and The Future of Ideas

"Infotopia is a persuasive and sophisticated meditation on the ways in which the Web is not just living up to its early hype, but transcending it. Cass Sunstein has given us a brilliant integrative view of how the distributed users of the Internet can band together to produce extraordinary work--along with the circumstances that best give rise to deliberation rather than groupthink."--Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation, Oxford University

"Cass Sunstein's new book is a lively illustration of emerging mechanisms for collective rationality never anticipated in the classic writings of Madison, Marx, or Milton (Friedman). Neither a utopian nor a Luddite, Sunstein provides just the right mix of enthusiasm and caution. Ironically, in arguing for the tremendous potential of the group mind, Sunstein demonstrates a command of law, social science, and computer science rarely found in any individual author--and produces a very fun read."--Robert MacCoun, Professor of Public Policy and Law, University of California at Berkeley

"In our knowledge-based world, extracting useful information from society is more important than ever. Sunstein convincingly reveals the limitations of popular processes like deliberation while showing how collectives--under certain conditions--can effectively solve many problems. An engaging read, full of eye-opening examples,Infotopia shows how and why our efforts to harness knowledge must evolve."--Michael J. Mauboussin, Chief Investment Strategist, Legg Mason Capital Management and author of More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places

"Sunstein, one of the biggest of America's internet big thinkers, has written an intriguing new book in which he argues that Hayek's insights about the genius of markets are equally true of the internet. Sunstein argues, for example, that sharing scientific information online would cure some of the worst problems of the US patent system and foster innovation much more efficiently than costly patent litigation. Sunstein recognizes all the potential flaws of such collaborative projects. Groupthink can be dangerous. But, says Sunstein, the wisdom of the many is a great thing, and sharing knowledge online can lead to remarkable advances for companies, for governments and for the rest of us."--Patti Waldmeir, Financial Times

"A survey of the evidence on how information technology affects political debate and institutional decision making. The result is a vivid, readable, and informative work of empiricist skepticism--a show-me-the-money guide to what soars and what stumbles from the stable of Internet dreams."--Jedediah Purdy, American Prospect, Duke University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195189285
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/15/2006
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Cass R. Sunstein is Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School, a contributing editor at the New Republic and the American Prospect, and a frequent contributor as well to such publications as the New York Times and the Washington Post. He is the recipient of the Henderson Prize and the Goldsmith Book Prize; his many books include Radicals in Robes, Republic.com, Why Societies Need Dissent, and Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Dreams and Nightmares
1. The (Occasional) Power of Numbers
2. The Surprising Failures of Deliberating Groups
3. Four Big Problems
4. Money, Prices, and Prediction Markets
5. Many Working Minds: Wikis, Open Source Software, and Blogs
6. Implications and Reforms
Conclusion--Realizing Promises
Appendix: Prediction Markets
Notes
Index

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Discussion of information sharing and collective thought

    In this delightful book, Cass R. Sunstein offers a cogent, compact and gently witty discussion of information sharing. His explanations of how different knowledge-aggregation processes work are extremely useful. They range from the theoretical (laying out the philosophical structures underpinning deliberation) to the practical (offering focused and specific suggestions for improvement). This certainly isn't the first book on how groups create knowledge - thinkers have rushed to make sense of the new possibilities that information technology presents. It is, however, one of the more quietly critical approaches, one that debunks extreme claims, points out the dangers that balance the often-trumpeted benefits and shares first-hand experiences. Sunstein is an enthusiast for certain types of collective information processing, but he is far from naïve. getAbstract recommends this book to managers interested in improving organizational decision making.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2011

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