Francis Pisani: The Alchemy of Crowds

Presentation of the book La Alquimia de las Multitudes. Cómo la web está cambiando el mundo [The Alchemy of Crowds. How the web is changing the world], by Francis Pisani and Dominique Piotet. February 19th, 2009. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.

The Alchemy of Crowds. How the web is changing the world.
Francis Pisani

La Alquimia de las Multitudes, book cover

A shift his happening from web surfers to web actors.

Wisdom of crowds, among others described by Pierre Lévy: through a process of discussion, we achieve a higher knowledge.

Nicholas Carr states that the web is in this sense emergent, which means that can produce unexpected results. As it and lacks morality, we should be aware of how the Internet evolves so that it doesn’t gets out of control.

One step beyond: from the wisdom of crowds to collective intelligence.

Why the alchemy of crowds? because through alchemy, we can produce gold or lead. We have to benefit and take part into the wonder of the Internet. But we have to be cautious and do not fall intro virtual traps.

We have to develop digital literacy: at schools, at the corporate level, and at the individual level.

The Web 2.0 makes it possible to connect not only pages, but people. And it is the broadband and its “always on” feature that enables this connexion amongst people, to access information, to take part into everything.


María Jesús Salido: what’s the difference between the wisdom of crowds and the collective intelligence? A: Henry Jenkins says that collective intelligence implies discussion, debate, consensus. The wisdom of crowds is just a matter of making emerge what everybody knows once they are put together. Two poles: artificial intelligence (create more intelligence) and human intelligence augmentation (improve the existing intelligence). O’Reilly says that Google interprets links as votes, and Walmart buys as votes too: MyBarackObama did alike, and identified links between people as political affinity and shaped their political campaign according to it. Humans act like sensors, and we have to be clever enough to interpret them. The good thing about being able to deal with huge amounts of data is that we can identify patterns and even draw trends, as Google trends does.

Q: Are we digital natives? What can be done about this? A: It is true that youngsters can manage better technology, but it is not clear that they do fully understand what it’s at stake. Does everyone understand the non-neutralities (Castells) of technology? The digital divide is no more about physical access, which is closing, but on how to use the technologies at anyone’s reach, how to benefit from collective intelligence, etc.

Q: What’s the role of mobile phones in the future? A: The web will not be 3.0, because is tettered to mobile telephony: this will be the driver for development and the device from which to leverage all the evolution of the Internet. The proportion now between mobiles and fixed broadband is almost 3 to 1. And many of them run on prepaid cards.

Javier Maján: Will

Ricard Espelt: who are the new influentials? do they know they are influential? A: Networks do not work like institutions. Networks work like swarms (swarming), gathering and dispersing people very quickly, in flash mobs. And networks do not need bosses, but work on the basis to be able to transmit messages, and to bring influence with them.

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