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Of oxes and the wisdom of crowds: Lior Zoref at TED2012

Posted by: Ben Lillie

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Possibly the most meta speaker on the TED stage is Lior Zoref. He had a dream: to speak at TED. He shows a video of himself saying to his friend that he wanted to do that, and his best friend telling him it was impossible. But his Facebook and twitter friends encouraged him. He wanted to give a talk on the wisdom of crowds. So, he’s giving the first ever crowd sourced TEDTalk, and he asked his online friends for help.

One suggestion came from a 16 year old, named Or Sagy: have the audience recreate a classic experiment in the widsom of crowds. Have people estimate the weight of an ox. Each guess will be wildly off, but the average will be remarkably close. To do this, he brings a live ox on stage.

No, really. There is a live ox on stage.

(echos of “Oh my god” and “No fricking way” around the room.)

Zoref asks the audience to guess the weight (using, of course a nifty website). Results to come later in the talk.

Now, if using crowd wisdom worked for companies, why couldn’t it work for his life? In that spirit, he posted the talk on wikipedia and solicited advice from his friends on Facebook and Twitter and elsewhere. And he met several people doing similar things.

Kai Busman is a pastor who uses crowd wisdom to create his Sunday sermons. Every week he asks what he should talk about and writes his sermon from that. Durring the service, people use phones to share understanding in real time. Church is full every Sunday.

Francine is raising her son using crowd wisdom on a daily basis, and said that she feels as if “super-nanny” is helping her.

“Is this the best crowd wisdom has to offer?” One of Zoref, and everyone’s, deepest fear is a child being sick. Deborah‘s child had a fever and rash, so she took photo and posted on Facebook. After one hour, three people said he might have Kawasaki disease. Crowd wisdom saved his life.

These people are, “Thinking with their friends. They all say they feel as if their brains have been upgraded.”

“Do you want to upgrade your brain?” asks Zoref. Here’s how you do it: You need a big crowd. You need a healthy digital relationship with your crowd. You can’t just ask questions, you need to give value, listen, respond — tell people they matter.

One of his friends though this means there’s something new. At TED we get inspired by the best speakers, but each is created by one, shared to many. It’s possible now to give a talk created by many, presented by one to many. We are entering the phase of mind-sharing. “The entire human race connected through social networks, and creating a master-mind.”

How good does the the mind of that crowd do? There were 500 estimates, and the results were:

-The lowest guess was 308 lbs.

-The highest was more than 8000 pounds.

-The average was 1792 pounds.

And the real weight? The ox weighs 1795 pounds. Three pounds off. Zoref hopes we’ll use crowd wisdom, not just for thinking, but to make our dreams come true, and he ends his talk with a line read by his online friends:

“Great minds think alike, clever minds think together.”

Comments (27)

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  • Robin Rosenblatt commented on Jul 31 2013


    I been work on this problem for four years and very few will help. So please share this with anyone who can help.

    Desert Cattle to the Rescue, Texas Longhorn
    I like guns but for me they are just tools, a tool to protect the cattle and myself. But the cattle have something better, sharp horns. They can kill and it takes a lot less explaining afterwards then it does if I shot the SOB.

    Israeli Ranches are being attacked, their land being stolen and their passive European cattle are being mutilated and killed by local Arabs and by natural predators, wolves and jackals. Israeli European beef cattle are incompatible with Israel’s desert environment. This has resulted in many problems including high calf losses, (as high as 30%). Israel needs desert cattle that fits its environment and can defend it’s self and it’s calves. That breed of cattle is Texas Longhorn. We are 501 c 3 non-profit. To start we need $256,000. Go to our website and donate:

    Helping to create jobs and helping a sector of Israel’s economy. Recently, I received reports of ranchers and their families being murdered.

    We will be using 22nd century cattle handle methods called, Stockmanship and ecological grazing techniques called Strategic Grazing. Both will be taught to Israeli Ranchers.

    Robin Rosenblatt, M.Sc. (ex Israeli Solider, past anti Terrorist Agent)
    Director – The Longhorn Project
    501(c) 3 Nonprofit #74-3177354
    815 Hill St. # 5
    Belmont, CA 94002

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