Scientific Sense Podcast

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Applied adoption

Recent research from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics seems to confirm intuition – network influences are important in the rate of adoption of emerging technologies. Large and well connected networks likely will accelerate adoption by biasing societal influence over local utility maximization. However, the study takes it one step further by suggesting that external agents such as the government can strategically grow network size and thus accelerate adoption of technologies, presumed to be good.

This is a slippery slope. The basic premise that external agencies can determine what a societal good (the study suggests that energy efficient technologies are unambiguously good) may be, is fraught with problems. External agents, where decisions are made by a few people, have never shown to be better in selecting and influencing socially optimal outcomes – it is just the opposite. Decision processes controlled by a small group will always be inferior and thus any policy emanating from such an architecture generally destroys societal utility. More importantly, in a world of accelerating networks, there is no need for external influences – the network is fully capable of selecting and adopting innovations that are optimal.

The proclivity to assume superior knowledge in a few compared to the wisdom of the crowds, have led many, down blind alleys, destroying wealth, health and the environment. Research in this direction will only exacerbate this problem.

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