Thomas W. Malone, director of MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, on his study of humanity’s ability to think beyond our own brains: the idea of "collective intelligence".
What does collective intelligence mean? It’s important to realize that intelligence is not just something that happens inside individual brains. It also arises with groups of individuals. In fact, I’d define collective intelligence as groups of individuals acting collectively in ways that seem intelligent. By that definition, of course, collective intelligence has been around for a very long time. Families, companies, countries, and armies: those are all examples of groups of people working together in ways that at least sometimes seem intelligent.
It’s also possible for groups of people to work together in ways that seem pretty stupid, and I think collective stupidity is just as possible as collective intelligence…
What’s new, though, is a new kind of collective intelligence enabled by the Internet. Think of Google, for instance, where millions of people all over the world create web pages, and link those web pages to each other. Then all that knowledge is harvested by the Google technology so that when you type a question in the Google search bar the answers you get often seem amazingly intelligent, at least by some definition of the word “intelligence”….
Our future as a species may depend on our ability to use our global collective intelligence to make choices that are not just smart, but also wise.
Want to dig deeper? Andy Revkin has a collection of links on his NY Times DotEarth blog. The fact that we are even having this discussion, in the connected manner that we are having it, is a pretty good example of the power of this idea.