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Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge Paperback – July 7, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"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 author--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

"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, American Prospect, Duke University

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. He is the recipient of the Henderson Prize and the Goldsmith Book Prize; his many books include Radicals in Robes,, Why Societies Need Dissent, and Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195340671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195340679
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.7 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #904,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Review Guy on June 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the 1960's, legal scholars discovered what the rest of us always knew: that pure legal scholarship is really, really boring. Law and economics demonstrated that a multidisciplinary approach could breath fresh life into the corpse of law. Then, suddenly, all the rock star law professors were interdisciplinarians. And along with this devaluation of pure legal thought came a general loss of intellectual rigor. By the 1990's, celebrity law professors were becoming like journalists with really good grades, each writing outside of his or her area of competence with an astonishing self-confidence. Richard Posner, who was on relatively solid ground in economics, crowned himself an expert on military intelligence. Lawrence Lessig wrote a whole series of books without any thesis or logical argument. And this new breed of scholar seemed to be in a race to publish as much as possible as quickly as possible, without regard for quality.

I have always thought that Cass Sunstein epitomizes the worst of this trend. He seems to rush a book into print every six months, and with each new work drifts further and further away from "law." But after hearing him on Russ Roberts' fantastic EconTalk podcast, I was genuinely dying to read this book. The topics chosen are all fascinating, and no one has really treated them all under one roof before.

The problem is that, once again, Sunstein has given short shrift to these topics. All of them, with the exception of group deliberation, has been covered better elsewhere. Where Sunstein is not stealing the limelight from people like Robin Hanson (prediction markets) he is rehashing the pop science books of people like James Surowieki (statistical group judgments).
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66 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was initially disappointed, but adjusted my expectations when I reminded myself that the author is at root a lawyer. The bottom line on this book is that it provided a very educated and well-footnoted discourse the nature and prospects for group deliberation, but there are three *huge* missing pieces:

1) Education as the necessary continuous foundation for deliberation

2) Collective Intelligence as an emerging discipline (see the Innovators spread sheet at Earth Intelligence Network); and

3) No reference to Serious Games/Games for Change or budgets as a foundation for planning the future rather than predicting it.

In the general overview the author discusses information cocoons (self-segregation and myopia) and information influences/social pressures that can repress free thinking and sharing.

The four big problems that he finds in the history of deliberation are amplifying errors; hidden profiles & favoring common or "familiar" knowledge; cascades & polarization; and negative reinforements from being within a narrow group.

Today I am missing a meeting on Predictive Markets in DC (AEI-Brookings) and while I regret that, I have thoroughly enjoyed the author's deep look at Prediction Markets, with special reference to Google and Microsoft use of these internally. This book, at a minimum, provides the very best overview of prediction markets that I have come across. At the end of the book is an appendix listing 18 specific predictions markets with their URLs.

The author goes on to provide an overview of the Wiki world, and is generally very kind to Jimbo Wales and Wikipedia, and less focused on the many altneratives and enhancements of the open Wiki.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Peter McCluskey on July 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
There's a lot of overlap between James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds and Infotopia, but Infotopia is a good deal more balanced and careful to avoid exaggeration. This makes Infotopia less exciting but more likely to convince a thoughtful reader. It devotes a good deal of attention to conditions which make groups less wise than individuals as well as conditions where groups outperform the best individuals.
Infotopia is directed at people who know little about this subject. I found hardly any new insights in it, and few ideas that I disagreed with. Some of its comments will seem too obvious to be worth mentioning to anyone who uses the web much. It's slightly better than Wisdom of Crowds, but if you've already read Wisdom of Crowds you'll get little out of Infotopia.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Weinberg on June 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I originally bought this book as a birthday present for my brother, a philosopher, and then immediately stole it from him. (I gave it back after I bought my own copy.) The book paints a frightening picture of how group processes can lead us very, very astray. In many ways, it reads as a sequel to his book on Punitive Damages, which documents frightening trends for experimental jury pools to assign harsher damages than the individual jurors planned to assign in pre-deliberation surveys.

I quickly added the chapters on group deliberation failures to the syllabus for my class on psychology and economics. My only trepidation was that I am also assigning sections of Punitive Damages and Laws of Fear, so there's now an entire unit on Cass Sunstein's work. But he does an excellent job of exploring in readable prose the societal consequences of psychological influences on choice. As such, his books offer a very accessible mirror into aspects of bounded rationality or heuristics & biases that we study in economics. I figure the marginal contribution of this book, in terms of class discussion and actual post-exam take-aways, exceed the contribution of a few more technical empirical papers.... At least, I hope that turns out to be the case!

Addendum: as of May 2015, this book is still on my psychological economics syllabus. The last few chapters are quite dated now, but core of the book remains extremely relevant and effective.
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