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Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge

Cass R. Sunstein

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Format: Paperback, 304pp.
ISBN: 9780195340679
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pub. Date: June 30, 2008

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Description and Reviews
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As the dire history of planned economies highlights, small well-informed groups of people will often make far worse decisions than large numbers of people, acting independently, would make. In Infotopia, Cass Sunstein looks at the "wisdom of the many"--particularly as seen on today's Internet--illuminating many new ways of collecting and evaluating information and making effective decisions.

Sunstein shows how the on-line efforts of many people coming together help companies, schools, governments, and individuals to amass ever-growing bodies of accurate knowledge. He describes for instance how Wikipedia, through an endless flurry of self-correcting exchanges, collects informationon everything from politics and business to science fiction. Open-source software--which licenses programmers to use, change, and improve the software--taps the power of large numbers of people to spur technological development. And prediction markets--such as the famous Iowa Electronic Market, where people bet real money on the outcome of local and national elections--collect information in a way that allows companies, ranging from computer makers to Hollywood studios, to make better decisions about the future.

Sunstein reveals why these revolutionary new methods are so astoundingly accurate and he also shows how people can take advantage of "the wisdom of the many" without succumbing to the dangers of herd mentality.


"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, merican Prospect, Duke University

"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 cuthor--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

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About 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.

Table of Contents

Introduction : dreams and nightmares3
1The (occasional) power of numbers 21
2The surprising failures of deliberating groups45
3Four big problems75
4Money, prices, and prediction markets103
5Many working minds : wikis, open source software, and blogs147
6Implications and reforms197
Conclusion : realizing promises217
App Prediction markets227

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