The Stupidity of Crowds

The Stupidity of Crowds

I read and thoroughly enjoyed James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, but this morning I also noticed the stupidity of crowds.  As I was prepping the screen capture of the detailed reporting about the Steelers NOT feeling the earthquake, I attempted to spell Allegiance for the title.  My first guess was, “Alegience” and it was so wrong, that my spell checker had no idea what I was talking about.

Fortunately, as is often the case, a quick trip to Google got me the “Did you mean allegiance?” line that all of us who are bad spellers are used to.  Which led me to thinking, the reason Google is so much better than my spell checker is that it doesn’t base their suggestions on words that are close to the one I spelled, but on mistakes other people have made.  As we continue to build software that’s better and better at inferring intent, we get machines that (like spouses or close friends) get better and better at giving us what we need/want without having to ask for it (or at least not ask for it correctly).  Between cell phones that alert you to nearby sales you might like, to autofill on your browser this is one of the directions of products today.  I think its a fun one, but also one that will require a new breed of designers.