Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab Human Dynamics Laboratory director Alex Pentland has written "Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread--the Lessons from a New Science," a book that ties the lab's various research efforts into a new theory of human social interaction. The book applies this theory to questions of organizational management, urban planning, and digital privacy.
Abundant mobile-sensor data, new mathematical tools for analyzing network interdependencies, and powerful new computers offer the possibility of bringing quantitative rigor to sociology, or "social physics," according to Pentland. "We have enough data to take all of these theories about people and innovation and good decision-making and make them quantitative," Pentland says. "And when you do that, you find that there are some reasonably simple principles that account for 80, 90 percent of the variance in some cases."
These principles pertain to the interaction between two types of information propagation, called "exploring" and "engagement." Exploring represents exposure to novel ideas, while engagement refers to in-person social interactions. Pentland says engagement remains the predominant means through which an idea takes hold in a community. He says the Human Dynamics Laboratory has repeatedly seen the importance of balancing exploration and engagement in its research, and is studying how to harness these effects.
From MIT News
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