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Alex "Sandy" Pentland

Alex "Sandy" Pentland

MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program & Human Dynamics Laboratory


If the Big Data revolution has a presiding genius, it is MIT’s Alex “Sandy” Pentland. Over years of groundbreaking experiments, he has distilled remarkable discoveries significant enough to become the bedrock of a whole new scientific field: social physics. We can now predict and change the social structures of companies, governments, communities and much more, to solve some of our most difficult issues. Social physics is about idea flow, the way human social networks spread ideas and transform those ideas into behaviors. It will change the way we think about how we learn and how our social groups work—and can be made to work better—at every level of society. In his newest book, Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science, Pentland leads you to the edge of the most important revolution in the study of social behavior in a generation, an entirely new way to look at life itself. Read More >

Professor Pentland holds a triple appointment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Media Lab (SA+P), School of Engineering and School of Management. He also directs MIT’s Connection Science initiative, the Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program and has been a member of the Advisory Boards for Google, Nissan, Telefonica, Tencent and a variety of start-up firms. For several years, he co-led the World Economic Forum Big Data and Personal Data initiatives. He has pioneered the fields of wearable computing and computational social science, generating several successful startups and technology spinoffs.

Pentland was named by the Secretary General of the United Nations to the Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. Sandy has previously helped create and direct MIT’s Media Laboratory, the Media Lab Asia laboratories at the Indian Institutes of Technology, and Strong Hospital’s Center for Future Health. In 2012, Forbes named Pentland one of the “seven most powerful data scientists in the world,” along with the founders of Google and the CTO of the United States. In 2013, he won the McKinsey Award from Harvard Business Review. Pentland’s books include Honest Signals and Social Physics. He was named to the National Academy of Engineering in 2014. Pentland holds a BGS from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. from MIT.

Pentland’s research group and entrepreneurship program have spun off more than 30 companies to date, three of which are publicly listed and several that serve millions of poor in Africa and South Asia. Audiences have the opportunity to learn from one of the world’s leading data scientists about the new science of idea flow. Through passionate speeches, he offers revolutionary insights into the mysteries of collective intelligence and social influence. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

TEDTalk: Networked Data

Success Through Social Physics

Patterns of Data

Measure Your Team's Success

TEDTalk: Technology is Changing the Business Model

Human AI

Speech Topics

Maintaining Vital Workplace Collaboration & Communication in a Work-From-Home World

From a business and organizational point of view, virus spread and information spread are very similar, mathematically. How do you stop one without stopping the other? Research shows that 50% of business decisions are influenced by informal conversations and interactions versus formal meetings. These face-to-face, casual interactions also spark innovation, boost productivity, improve mental health, increase trust and foster solidarity at every level of your organization. With social distancing requiring so many of us to work remotely and interact in virtual meetings, how do we maintain the idea flow, successful innovation and productivity that thrive in personal contact environments? Drawing upon his work and book, Social Physics, Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland offers proven technological, managerial and organizational prescriptions to increase beneficial social communication and information flow in a work-from-home world.

Frontiers of Financial Technology

Financial technology innovation has exploded in the popular consciousness and promises a radical transformation of the global financial services industry. Over $20 billion is expected to be invested in Fintech projects. How can executives, investors, and entrepreneurs make sense of the new inventions that are driving this change? MIT Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland, called by Forbes one of the seven most powerful data scientists on the planet, is curating an exploration of several major trends and technologies that are changing the face of financial services. From blockchain to artificial intelligence, this speech helps audiences grapple with this exciting area of technology innovation.


As the economy and society move from a world where interactions were physical and based on paper documents toward a world that is primarily governed by digital data and digital transactions, our existing methods of managing identity and data security are proving inadequate. Large-scale fraud, identity theft and data breaches are becoming common, and a large fraction of the population has only the most limited digital credentials. Even so, our digital infrastructure is recognized as a strategic asset which must be resilient to threats. If we can create an Internet of Trusted Data that provides safe, secure access for everyone, then huge societal benefits can be unlocked, including better health, greater financial inclusion and a population that is more engaged with and better supported by its government. MIT Professor and Data Scientist Alex Pentland describes a roadmap and platforms to implement this new paradigm.

Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science

Until now, sociologists have depended on limited data sets and surveys that tell us how people say they think and behave, rather than what they actually do. As a result, we’ve been stuck with the same stale social structures—classes, markets—and a focus on individual actors, data snapshots and steady states. Read More >

To understand our new world, we must extend familiar economic and political ideas to include the effects of these millions of people learning from one another and influencing one another’s opinions. We can no longer think of ourselves as individuals reaching carefully considered decisions, We must include the dynamic social effects that drive economic bubbles, political revolutions and the Internet economy. In this speech, Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland shows that, in fact, humans respond much more powerfully to social incentives that involve rewarding others and strengthening the ties that bind than incentives that involve only their own economic self-interest.

Based on his book Social Physics, the professor and data scientist will change the way we think about how we learn and how our social groups work—and can be made to work better, at every level of society. Pentland leads audiences to the edge of the most important revolution in the study of social behavior in a generation, an entirely new way to look at life itself. Read Less ^

Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World

How can you know when someone is bluffing? Paying attention? Genuinely interested? The answer, writes Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland in Honest Signals, is that subtle patterns in how we interact with other people reveal our attitudes toward them. These unconscious social signals are not just a back channel or a complement to our conscious language. They form a separate communication network. Read More >

Pentland, an MIT professor and data scientist, shares in this speech how he has used a specially designed digital sensor worn like an ID badge--a "sociometer"--to monitor and analyze the back-and-forth patterns of signaling among groups of people. He and his researchers found that this second channel of communication, revolving not around words but around social relations, profoundly influences major decisions in our lives--even though we are largely unaware of it. Pentland presents the scientific background necessary for understanding this form of communication, applies it to examples of group behavior in real organizations and shows how by "reading" our social networks, we can become more successful at pitching an idea, getting a job or closing a deal. Read Less ^