In 1999, chess master Garry Kasparov defeated Earth — the entire planet — in a game of chess. Fifty thousand people collaborated online and they still couldn’t beat the master.
Stop. Think about this. Fifty thousand excellent chess amateurs with books, time, and access to resources, tried to beat Garry Kasparov at a game of chess and failed.
I cite this as an example of how, contrary to popular belief, crowds aren’t smarter than the best in their fields. Yes, it’s true that collective wisdom is really good at guessing how many beans are in a jar, and yes, poll numbers have value. But collective wisdom can only get you so far.
As physicist Richard Feynman famously said, “Hell, if I could explain it to the average person, it wouldn’t have been worth the Nobel Prize.”
So what happens when the things that matter most can’t be understood by most people?
The 2008 financial collapse was the direct result of relaxed regulation of derivatives trading. The average person doesn’t understand derivatives trading. I have been working in Accounting and Finance since 1989 and I don’t understand fucking derivatives! As a result, when we hear that Congress still hasn’t clamped down on it, and may be about to roll back derivatives rules, the average person just can’t seem to get irate. But we should be. Because the idiots who caused the meltdown are going to be free to do the same thing all over again.
Take genetically modified organisms, GMOs, like Monsanto corn and Round-up-ready soybeans. The average person understands neither the science of how organisms are genetically modified, nor the complicated environmental and economic repercussions.
These companies are the real-life counterparts of Umbrella Corp., and they are attracting the world’s greatest minds. Smart people aren’t stupid enough to work for peanuts. They go to the best schools, and when they get out, they get on the payrolls of companies like Monsanto, Lehman Bros., Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs.
These folks are smarter than us, and the old adage “there’s strength in numbers” just isn’t true any longer. How do we beat them? Haven’t got a clue. But we need to figure out a way.