Programming society with big data and small cash payments

The mathematical modeling of society is made possible, according to Pentland, by the innate tractability of human beings. We may think of ourselves as rational actors, in conscious control of our choices, but in reality most of what we do is reflexive. Our behavior is determined by our subliminal reactions to the influence of other people, particularly those in the various peer groups we belong to. “The power of social physics,” he writes, “comes from the fact that almost all of our day-to-day actions are habitual, based mostly on what we have learned from observing the behavior of others.” Once you map and measure all of a person’s social influences, you can develop a statistical model that predicts that person’s behavior, just as you can model the path a billiard ball will take after it strikes other balls.

Source: Big data and the limits of social engineering

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