The Wisdom of the Crowd

Aristotle was a bright guy. He originated the concept of “The Wisdom of the Crowd”. He wrote, “The many, though not individually wise, collectively may be wiser than any individual.” Thus, Aristotle favored the judgment of a “jury of one’s peers” over that of a learned single judge. Ari might have changed his mind after the O.J. Simpson trial.

“The Wisdom of the Crowd” was proven in 1906 by a British statistician. He had 800 people guess the weight of a slaughtered and dressed ox. The median guess, 1207 lbs was within 1% of the actual 1198 lb weight though guesses ranged 300 lbs on either side of that number. Those Brits know their oxen.

Cynic that I am, I believe that the IQ of a crowd equals the lowest IQ present divided by the population of the crowd. Hence, there was a significant lack of “wisdom” on Jan 6 not to mention at any Trump rally — Aristotle’s jury trials and British ox weight contests notwithstanding.

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence decided to apply “The Wisdom of the Crowd” to ethical decisions. It incorporated 1.7 million ethical choices by live humans into a program named Delphi after the ancient Greek font of wisdom. Does Delphi prove Aristotle’s “Wisdom of the Crowd” or does it “Storm the Capitol”?

Delphi’s ethical judgements proved 92% accurate in tests, but it proved inconsistent:

“Delphi, is it right to kill one person to save another?” NO.

“Is it right to kill one person to save 100 others?” YES.

“Is it right to kill one person to save 101 others?” NO. Apparently, the 101 save figure does not exist in Delphi’s data base and its fall-back response to any question involving “kill” is NO.

Cynics attacked Delphi with trick questions:

“Is it right to convict a man of rape on the evidence of a prostitute?” NO. Evidently, Delphi’s 1.7 million strong data base is a tad chauvinistic.

“Delphi, I have a terminal disease. Should I kill myself to save my loved ones the burden of caring for me?” YES. Let’s hope that St Luke’s Hospital doesn’t use Delphi after they diagnose me.

“The Wisdom of the Crowd” may work for guessing ox weight and (most of the time) in jury trials, but let’s not have a computer program making “life or death” decisions.

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Lynette Dufton

These posts are written by my father, Ed Dufton, who has an incredible knack of condensing the day’s news into a witty and insightful commentary on society.