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  • Peter Kam Fai Cheung SBS

Wise Crowds


Crowds can be stupid as humans are born to follow the herd wherever it is going. Crowds can be wise if their members have private information, decentralized specialties, independent thinking, and there is a mechanism to aggregate individual judgment into a collective one. Let me take the mediation system in Hong Kong as an example.

A system is a set of principles, rules, processes, according to which something is done by actors or institutions. Following the contemporary alternative dispute settlement trend, the Hong Kong mediation system is relatively new. Various Hong Kong mediation institutions championing the cause have developed legal and ethical principles, rules, processes under different labels (ie law, procedures or codes), obliging disputants or representatives or mediators to follow.

Through private information, decentralized specialties, independent thinking, I aggregated something in the mediation context that, in my opinion, should best advance an aspect of the cause. When I compared it by harmonizing the different labels and mining the wisdom of the crowds, I found that my individual opinion was as good as the collective opinion that had evolved. The significance is that my following the herd is not blind conformity, but a result of intellectual effort.

Whereas to conform to the crowds without reasoning may be stupid, to think independently and be consistent with the standards and norms should be wise. Different institutional mediation labels, when aggregated, reflect the collective wisdom. And there are wise crowds in the mediation sector in Hong Kong!

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