How Social Physics Explains About the World

Big data has ushered in a new era of Social Physics.

April 25, 2018, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Busy Downtown

La Citta Vita / Flickr

A new show on the BBC called The Big Idea, hosted by David Edmonds, tracks down ideas and explains them. On a recent episode of the show, the idea dug into the idea of Social Physics.

Edmonds presents Professor Sandy Pentland as a modern day guru of Social Physics, but Pentland notes that idea of "being able to understand society using statistics and data" has a long history. The existence of a Census in many countries and national offices of statistics is evidence of the long history of the ideas behind Social Physics.

The many streams of data available, however, have transformed the contemporary era of Social Physics—it's not just a decennial census, conducted by survey, driving data collection anymore.

Edmonds then focuses the discussion of "Big Data" and Social Physics down to the neighborhood level, with questions about how neighborhoods interact and the effects of those interactions. As it turns out, social relationships are as powerful a source of predictable consequences of any of the data out there. Social Physics even explains aspects of segregation and wealth in the city of London.

Monday, April 23, 2018 in BBC - The Big Idea

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