Posted by: jimmydlg | November 8, 2008

Collective Intelligence

Collective Intelligence is certainly not a new way of groups showing more of an aptitude at performing a task or accomplishing goals together than they might have been capable of individually. In fact, the earliest cited example of collective intelligence may indeed be as old as 3.5 billion years (according to Howard Bloom, pg. 16,) as evidenced by the capacity of primordial cyanobacteria to create elaborate communities and prosper through the division of labor.

Collective Intelligence generally refers to the intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals. There are many communities throughout our lives that can evolve to exhibit various levels of CI, for example, political parties, shared public forums, even users of massively multi-player online role playing games (or MMORPGS.)

Whenever a group of individuals collaborates on a large or massive scale where there is openness, peering, sharing and global acting, CI begins to emerge. CI, while a very powerful organization force, can be subject to errors promoted in society that bring about limitations to communication and ideas on such a large scale. Such emersions of degraded forms of CI are sometimes referred to as collective stupidity, and can be seen in the less than optimal decisions crowds of people sometimes make.

Recognizing this, the question was posed, is it possible to prevent humans from falling victim to collective idiocy and instead enabling them with machines and technology that exhibit an intelligence far greater than any individual or machine could alone?


Machines are great at organizing information, and humans of course, are great at understanding it. While much advancement has been made in the area of artificial intelligence, at their core, computers are programmed to respond to given situations or information in a particular way. They alone are currently incapable of rationalizing new input into the complex series of social connections and integration that define the process of human understanding.

Humans of course are disadvantaged by the fact they are able to process information at a fixed rate, and while, information processing may be optimized or slightly accelerated from time to time, it certainly doesn’t seem to double with each generation of humans as it does with computers. And while our brains may have a comparable capacity of 3 terabytes or so, we are far more inefficient at recalling discrete facts than a computer. In fact, human recollection is generally tainted with memory gaps and substitutions.

Anytime you have two disparate but compatible groups (be it of technology, societies, or individuals) with similar goals that each have their own advantages, you can almost certainly expect a more favorable outcome by their introductions. In nature, this is most commonly seen as symbiotic relationships, and their existence is not only common, but expected.

By allowing humans to do what humans do best, understand, and computers to assist them by doing what computers do best, catalog, organize and connect, we have the recipe for a very stimulating and rewarding potential evolution of Collective Intelligence.

We’ve seen slight examples of the potential benefits of this already with wikis and Wikipedia, and the integration of information via services such as those offered by Google that allow people to “mash up” data and view these separate collections of data in new intelligent ways.

There will always be room for improvement, and although having a lot of information isn’t necessarily the same as having good information, I think by far we’ll see more of an improvement by paring humans and machines together in a collective intelligence forum than we won’t.



  1. Wow jimmy you are really on it. See i found a lot of stuff that was just suggesting things about computers and people. I like the term collective stupidity. That seems like it may happen more often than not. You talked about wikis and wikipedia being used. You also said that having good info is better than having more. I agree quality over quantity but how do you siphon the good from the bad?

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