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Social Physics: how good ideas spread - the lessons from a new science Paperback – 10 Apr 2014

3.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribe Publications; New edition edition (10 April 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1922247553
  • ISBN-13: 978-1922247551
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 393,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'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 Abele, Co-Founder, Boston Scientific '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.' -- John Seely Brown, Former Chief Scientist, Xerox Corporation and director of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) '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.' -- Reed E. Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, CEO of the Coalition for Green Capital: '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 analyses how new ideas flow and how, with the emergence of the 'data-driven society,' they will increasingly influence every aspect of our lives.' -- 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: 'Pentland's insights make human behaviour less mysterious, but more amazing. Social Physics will make you see yourself and your world differently.' -- Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus and Here Comes Everybody 'Many of us have stood above a colony of ants and been astounded at their ability to act and organise as a social system. Humans are, of course, smarter, independent free-thinking individuals. Read this book and think again. With eyesight sharpened by math, modeling, and the familiarity with a new landscape he has in part created, Sandy Pentland and his team are mapping out a new world, crawling with information, that offers some real understanding of who we are and who we could be. Welcome to the age of social physics.' --Peter Gabriel, musician

About the Author

Alex 'Sandy' Pentland directs MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, co-leads the World Economic Forum Big Data and Personal Data initiatives, and is a founding member of the advisory boards for Nissan, Motorola Mobility, and a variety of start-up firms. 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 30 companies to date. In 2012 Forbes named Pentland one of the seven most powerful data scientists in the world.


Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There's a really interesting concept at the heart of this book, that of the interactions between people driving behaviours and the extension of this via some pretty whizzbang mathematics to a quntitative "science". But it felt to me that once that concept had been explored it was gone over again and again and again, and the thing that made it somewhat annoying to read was the author's repeated referral to himself and all the amazing things he had done. "When I was chairing this meeting Davos" "When I did this" "then I did that", blah blah
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Format: Hardcover
The main argument: The sciences that focus on human behavior, meaning the social sciences, have traditionally relied mainly on surveys and lab experiments in their investigations. While valuable to a degree, these sources of evidence do have their shortcomings. Most significantly, surveys offer but indirect evidence of human behavior (and can also be compromised by deception and self-deception); while lab experiments tend to be somewhat artificial, and fail to capture the complexities of real life.

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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Other ideas and theories, re-branded. Very superficial run through Social Capital, Social Learning, Big Data, smart cities, and urban planning. The constant referral to previous chapters feels like padding. The constant self-referencing feels like arrogance. There's possibly some depth to these ideas under all that. Would have been better as an article not a book.
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Format: Paperback
Alex ("Sandy") Pentland is among the most influential thought leaders in a new field that is called social physics, "a name coined two centuries ago by Auguste Comte, the creator of sociology. His concept was that certain ideas shaped the development of society in a regular manner." He and Lieberman offer a new understanding of human behavior and society, one that has immense implications and significance as social media continue to evolve in ways and to an extent Compte could not possibly imagine.

As Pentland explains, "To understand our new, hyperconnected world we must extend familiar economic and political ideas to include the effects of these millions of digital citizens learning from one another and influencing one another's opinions. We can no longer think of ourselves as only individuals reaching carefully considered opinions; we must include the dynamic social effects that influence our individual decisions and drive economic bubbles, political revolutions, and the Internet economy."

In Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Matthew D. Lieberman offers his own brilliant examination of the principles of the social brain with a wealth of information and insights, presented with language that non-scientists such as I can understand. His primary purpose is to explain why and how the human brain is wired to think socially. That is, to make connections, to read the minds of others, and to "harmonize" with others in the groups with which we connect.

As he observes, "Just as there are multiple social networks on the Internet such as Facebook and Twitter, each with its own strengths, there are also multiple social networks in our brains, sets of brain regions that work together to promote our social well-being.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the book on what is undoubtedly a fascinating topic, but it was very off putting that nearly all of the research to back up his hypothesis was carried out by himself or his lab.

As such it came across as rather self-promotional. It would have been a much better read if it had included some research or case studies from non-Pentland related sources, which is a shame as the topic is a fascinating one.
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Format: Paperback
Alex Pentland is one of the leading names in network and Big Data theory and this book is a gold mine if you are interested in the subject - and you need to be! Also some very useful stuff about data privacy.
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