Where do ideas come from? How do they get put into action? How can we create social structures that are productive and creative?
If the Big Data revolution has a presiding genius, it is MIT’s Alex Pentland. Over years of groundbreaking experiments, he has distilled remarkable discoveries that have become the bedrock of a new scientific field: social physics. This revolutionary science shows that innovation doesn’t come from a few exceptionally bright people, but from the flow of ideas — especially how our social networks spread ideas and turn those ideas into behaviours.
Thanks to the rise of smartphones, GPS devices, and the internet, Pentland and his teams can study patterns of information exchange in a social network, without any knowledge of the content of the information. Using this data, they can tell with stunning accuracy how effective that network is, whether it’s a business or an entire city. Pentland shows us how to fine-tune these networks to improve their performance — for instance, by maximising a group’s collective intelligence, or by using social incentives to work through disruptive change.
Social Physics will change the way we think about how we learn and how our social groups work — and can be made to work better, at every level of society. It is an entirely new way to look at life itself.
'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, organisations 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)
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'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 organisations 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, behavioural 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
‘Social Physics is the single best book about how creativity works at work.’
Bruce Daisley, EMEA Vice President of Twitter,, Management Today
‘Social Physics is filled with rich findings about what makes people tick. Using millions of data points measured over a long period of time in real settings, which Pentland calls ‘living laboratories,’ the author has monitored human behaviour on an unprecedented scale … Pentland’s research also offers lessons for policymakers and business people. He advances a new way to protect privacy by creating something of a property right for personal information … Social Physics is a fascinating look at a new field by one of its principal geeks.’
‘A fascinating view of the future of social networks that offers intriguing possibilities.’