It’s an age-old question: “If all your friends are jumping off a bridge, does that mean you should do it, too?”
Though disapproving parents around the world would disagree, Alex “Sandy” Pentland’s answer is "Yes, absolutely."
And Pentland knows a thing or two about human behavior.
Pentland, an MIT professor and serial entrepreneur, directs MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program. As keynote speaker at MIT’s 2015 Chief Data Officer & Information Quality Symposium (CDOIQ) symposium, Pentland called “jumping off the bridge,” , so to speak, the smartest social-learning and decision-making tool that both individual innovators and innovative organizations can employ in pursuit of success today.
He’ll continue that discussion in “Future Commerce,” an upcoming 12-week financial technology (or “fintech”) course. The part-time, online-only certificate course, offered by MIT EXperimental Learning in collaboration with online-learning provider GetSmarter, begins June 6, 2016. Pentland—whom Forbes has called one of the world’s seven most powerful data scientists—will teach the course with several MIT colleagues and fintech industry leaders.
The Social Story
In a 2011 research project, Pentland, MIT postdoctoral associate Yaniv Altshuler, and PhD student Wei Pan set out to show how such social learning works in the context of online stock trading.
Their key findings? As Pentland noted in these edited excerpts from a 2013 HBR article:
- “The results [reveal] that the effect of social learning is enormous. The traders who had diversity of ideas in their network—meaning that their social learning was neither too sparse nor too dense—had a return on investment that was 30 percent higher than the returns of both the isolated traders and those in the herd.”
- “Idea flow has two essential components—engagement within a group and exploration outside the group—and it can predict both productivity and creative output.”
- “Decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen when people learn from and draw on the experiences of others. In this process, success depends greatly on the quality of social exploration.”
Pentland's team at the MIT Media Lab is now extending its work to improve the ability for financial traders to predict the future price of a security, such as a stock, or the price of oil.
Over the last few years, Pentland’s research group has expanded its focus to explore the links between those key themes and the fintech world.
Among other projects, Pentland's research team has developed pioneering work in the use of blockchain to encrypt critical data, and even how to engage the concept of identity—necessary for regulatory compliance with anti-money laundering laws—with “pseudo-anonymous” digital currencies, such as Bitcoin or Dogecoin.
Recognizing the importance of both innovation in fintech and re-education in traditional financial services, Pentland will co-teach “Future Commerce” with several MIT colleagues. They include: Joost Bonsen, found research fellow and lecturer at the MIT the MIT Media Lab; Brian Forde, director of digital currency at the Media Lab; and Dave Shrier, managing director of MIT Connection Science.
“Education is something that happens to you. Learning is what you do actively," Shrier says in explaining the course’s participatory approach. "We’re excited about launching this certificate course with GetSmarter because they’ve proven their ability to design, develop, and deliver an unrivalled, competency-based online learning experience.”
In line with Pentland’s social-physics theory that the most significant education happens via social learning, this course’s design takes a constructivist approach. Whether students are entrepreneurs with novel ideas for fintech startups, or professionals in financial services, insurance, or banking, they’ll create knowledge through active collaboration with their peers. In addition, students will experience cutting-edge collaboration technology developed in Pentland’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, and they'll participate in a prediction market to harness the so-called “wisdom of crowds.”
In addition to learning from the MIT professors leading the course, participants will also hear lectures from a variety of industry leaders:
- Michael Casey, blockchain and cryptocurrent expert, senior advisor at the MIT Media Lab, and Wall Street Journal contributor
- Chris Larsen, CEO of Ripple
- Peter Arvai, CEO and cofounder of Prezi
- Jeremy Allaire, founder, chairman, and CEO of Circle
- Rene Reinsberg, founder and CEO of Locu, now part of GoDaddy
- Deven Sharma, MIT Connection Science fellow and former president of Standard & Poor's Financial Services
Participants will also receive an exclusive series of white papers on leading-edge fintech topics, such blockchain, payments, and quantitative analytics. “You’ll be exposed to the future of money, commerce, and payments. You’ll learn about disruptive technologies, including blockchain, leading to the rise of new currencies,” Shrier says. “You’ll explore innovation in financial markets—how new technologies around data and analytics are creating, for example, the ability to predict the future price of a security with great accuracy.”
“Future Commerce” offers an exciting opportunity for global professionals in financial services, insurance, and banking, as well as entrepreneurs who want to access MIT’s world-class education. If this sounds like the right fit for you, please download a course information pack to learn more.