Collective Intelligence / Human Systems Engineering

Collective Intelligence | Conversation | Edge.

Fascinating read from Thomas W. Malone, Director of MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence at the Sloan School of Management.

He studies the way people and computers can be connected to act more intelligently than any single person, group or computer. Better living through technology is one of the reasons why I wake up and “human systems engineering” is a slow hunch.

Love this view:

You could say that the Internet is one way of greatly accelerating the connections among different people and computers on our planet. As all the people and computers on our planet get more and more closely connected, it’s becoming increasingly useful to think of all the people and computers on the planet as a kind of global brain.

What’s the science here? In a sense, we’re trying to understand scientifically how groups of humans work together now using the means we have and have had for connecting humans to each other, face to face communication, telephone, Internet, et cetera. More importantly, perhaps, we’re also trying to understand the science behind the deeper phenomena of humans working together or humans and computers working together in ways that will help us understand how to create new kinds of human or human and computer cooperatives or collective intelligences. So in that sense, the boundary between science and engineering begins to blur.

Science is about understanding what is, engineering is about how to create what you want to be. But they’re clearly related to each other. Understanding better how the world works helps you shape the world in ways you want it to be, and often trying to shape the world in ways you want helps you understand fundamental scientific questions about how the world is in ways that you might never have thought of asking before. Another way of thinking about the question of what’s the science here is to relate what we’re doing in collective intelligence.

Interesting points:

Rose by any other name: Families, companies, countries and armies are examples of collective stupidity as well as intelligence. What causes either?

Global brain: Think of an evolutionary vector that could someday give rise to a global brain. E.G. Daniel Suarez’ Daemon. Google and Wikipedia aren’t that far off.

Genomes of Collective Intelligence: Malone has identified 19 collective intelligence design patterns that repeat over and over.

Measuring Collective Intelligence: Using the same statistical techniques to measure individual intelligence – average and maximum intelligence of the group is only moderately correlated with the collective intelligence of the group as a whole. Most of the factors thought to correlate didn’t at all. What did correlate?

  • Average social perceptiveness of group members: as measured by a test for autism (“Reading the Mind and the Eyes test” – look at other people’s eyes and try to guess the emotion the people are feeling. People good at that were good in groups and when you have a bunch of people like that the group is more intelligent.
  • Conversational Turn Taking: groups where one person dominated the discussion were on average less intelligent
  • % Women In The Group: More women = more intelligent. This is not just a diversity issue – they found a  linear relationship with more women being better all the up to all women.

Single factor of intelligence: One of the most well documented / surprising results is that there is a single factor of intelligence that correlates with individual performance across a wide array of tasks. Specifically, that single factor of intelligence is picking up new things quickly. Hah.

Interesting bio: Malone’s undergrad was in mathematical sciences – basically applied math and computer science. In graduate school, masters in engineering economic systems – Stanford program that no longer exists by that name. PhD in cognitive and social psychology from Stanford. “I wanted to help solve the problems created by technology changing faster than society could adapt.”

Why do this: Understand how the world of groups of people and computers work together, help businesses, governments and other organizations to work better, try to understand how world/society is evolving.

Ant Colonies: Maybe the right unit of analysis needs to be the colony rather than the individual ant when assessing collective intelligence.

Most of the things we think of as human intelligence really arise in the context of our interactions with other human beings.

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