Collective Intelligence is the capacity of groups to outperform individuals in problem- solving, innovation, prediction, creativity, and other cognitive tasks.
Explicit knowledge is conscious knowledge that is independent of the individual and contains identifiable facts, information, procedures, and routines, which can be codified, processed, stored and easily exchanged.
Tacit knowledge is defined as subconscious knowledge that is within the individual and contains habits, experience, skills, emotions, intuition, sensing, intuition, that is difficult to codify and make explicit and communicate to others (e.g. how to drive a car).
Embodied knowledge is defined as the constant flow of senses, actions, and experiences that encodes how the bodies should act without representation in a given situation. Embodied knowledge is visible during the performance and has no “verbal explanation”, as our bodies act competently, prior to our conscious awareness.
Larger groups tend to be more intelligent, under the right conditions, as increasing the number of participants also presents challenges in relation to the other drivers. There is the risk with larger groups of increasing the possibility of groupthink.
Various designs and facilitation techniques can help preserve the participants’ independence of judgment.
The group should consist of individuals with different perspectives, experiences, abilities, values, and knowledge.
Members should be at least minimally competent for the task at hand.
Members should have access to decentralized sources of information.
All individuals should have an equal opportunity to participate in decision-making processes, i.e. there should be no barriers to participation such as wealth, education, or social status.
Decision-making should involve a process of deliberation where individuals engage in open, respectful, and informed dialogue with one another.
Quality deliberation requires enabling a culture of constructive conflict and dissent, as cognitive diversity can only be tapped into by ensuring that different perspectives are heard and taken into account in the decision-making process.
Deliberative methods of CI thus typically require support in the form of facilitation, in order to assure the required quality of interaction.
Quality deliberation requires creating an environment in which everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas and challenging one another’s assumptions.
Getting people to share (information, skills, creative ideas…) for the purpose of better governance requires that they have trust in the process and its organizers.
Collective intelligence is also fostered by a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, depending on the task at hand. Intrinsic motivation – the drive to engage in an activity because it is inherently interesting, enjoyable, or fulfilling – is usually key when it comes to public affairs.
People need to have access to a diversity of arguments and opinions, thanks to participants in the CI process and to the information they are provided with.
Members must be able to communicate efficiently and at a reasonable cost.
Members should be able to form judgments independently and share them with confidence.
Collective thinking is enhanced by specially designed spaces and artifacts that extend the minds of the participants.
In order to elicit the collective intelligence of the group, the group needs fair and accurate ways of combining its members’ opinions into a collective judgment or decision. This can be achieved through voting, weighted averaging, rating, eliminating or other means.
How have humans managed to flourish in such a spectacular way ? Although we are by no means the strongest animals, Dr. Lex Paulson argues that our ability to socialize, navigate power and develop a “collective brain” has been key.
For him, the secret behind our expansion lies “in our insatiable appetite, first to learn from other humans, then to participate in complex collaborations of all sorts. It was this talent for teaming up, not sheer numbers or physical strength, that propelled humans atop the food chain.”
So what is specific about human collective intelligence and how has it developed?
Dr. Lex Paulson discusses the history of collective intelligence in human societies, exploring how societies have faced core dilemmas over time: Should groups collaborate or dominate? Should leaders be inclusive or lead with a strong hand?
Here are 10 key takeaways of Dr. Paulson’s contribution to the Handbook on the history of collective intelligence and power (dive right in to his full contribution, as it is packed with insights).
Humans evolved to accumulate knowledge collectively and to learn socially. Archeological, ethnological, and anthropological data suggests that for 95% of human history, communities were egalitarian and participatory, but with the rise of cities and states, power has been monopolized by elites.
Human beings’ unique ability to learn and share knowledge from one another is what propelled them to the top of the food chain, not just their intelligence or physical strength. The discovery and domestication of fire allowed humans to have more control over their environment and cook food, which in turn shifted energy to their brains and fuelled the development of shared knowledge. This was the birth of the public sphere and the “collective brain.” Evolution for humans happened through a cultural “trial and error” process and the filter of adaptive fitness drove the progress of our “collective brains.”
The history of human political organization is not linear. The ability to grow in scale and manage complexity has unfolded in different ways.
Democracy evolved from ancestral practices of collective self-rule. History is rich with inspiring examples of inclusive governance. Collective hunting of big game in small scale societies may have favored groups that developed norms for equal sharing of food and other resources, leading to proto-democracies. Egalitarianism required much patience, vigilance, and ingenuity in managing resources and people.
The Iroquois Confederacy was a successful model of collective thinking that allowed for political power to be integrated from the bottom-up and gave women a prominent role in the community.
The Gikuyu society in Kenya used a practice-based approach to civic education. They taught behavior through games and songs, which helped young people understand the importance of working together and following rules. This was reinforced through community actions like volunteering for tasks. The system was maintained through habit, peer pressure, and civic stories and songs.
The Athenians used a combination of civic tribes, a council of 500 (the Boulē), an assembly (the Ekklēsia), and citizen juries to organize their collective intelligence. The tribes connected individuals to valuable information and expertise outside of their families. The council was chosen by lottery to ensure diversity in representation. The assembly allowed any – male and free – citizen to attend and speak, and decisions were made by majority vote. Juries were selected by sortition.
In larger societies, centralized power tends to corrupt and full participation of the public is necessary to prevent this. However, evidence suggests that for much of political prehistory, societies alternated between hierarchy and equality.
The concept of collective intelligence dates back to the early days of the digital revolution and the invention of tools by computer scientists like Douglas Engelbart, who aimed to augment human intelligence through technology. Collective intelligence as a concept gained popularity with the rise of the internet and the formation of online communities around open-source software, wikis, and prediction markets.
John Dewey’s 1927 seminal work on The Public and Its Problems transcends previous thinkers’ efforts to make sense of humans’ ability or inability to be wise together by suggesting that collective intelligence comes from different forms of expertise. For him, democracy is the form of government that invites constant experimentation and improvement.
Today’s commonly accepted definition of collective intelligence was proposed in 1978 by Hiltz and Turoff: “a collective decision capability [that is] at least as good as or better than any single member of the group.”
The publication of “Collective Wisdom: Principles and Mechanisms” in 2012 marked a crucial moment in the convergence of collective intelligence and democratic innovation. It brought together experts from various fields to discuss the nature of collective intelligence and its relationship with democracy. The book highlights three key insights, including that collective intelligence is an emergent phenomenon, that cognitive diversity is an important indicator of democratic processes, and that evaluating political judgments requires a different framework than assessing facts.
As society grows more complex, collective intelligence is necessary for making wiser decisions. There have been many recent experiments in citizen participation and researchers are using insights from various fields to measure their performance. Institutions like the GovLab and the NESTA Centre for Collective Intelligence Design are working to translate scientific advances into practical solutions for governments. The School of Collective Intelligence at UM6P is dedicated to helping the next generation of public servants cultivate scientific and collaborative methods.
Director of Collective Intelligence Research Group, IT University of Copenhagen
We are witnessing a shift from a knowledge society to a collective intelligence society, where the combination of human knowledge and technology plays a crucial role in governance and policymaking, argues Dr. Carina Antonia Hallin.
Society has relied on collective intelligence for centuries, but today, the integration of collective intelligence, AI, and digital tools has evolved into a new paradigm of using collective intelligence for public problems. AI is being used in combination with collective intelligence methods to mobilize human intelligence for policymaking using data processing algorithms.
So what is the future of Collective Intelligence for humanity and policymaking? Prof. Hallin envisions a new era for society that more fully harnesses its collective intelligence.
Read this article in particular if you want to:
What do empirical studies say about the effects of participatory and deliberative processes on collective intelligence and public decision making?
This is clearly a decisive question for those seeking to make democracy smarter and stronger. Different social sciences, such as social psychology, pedagogy, political science, and sociology, have studied the effects of collective participation and deliberation.
Dr. Paolo Spada stresses the importance of evaluating the use of collective intelligence for the public good. He considers the effects of participatory democracy processes (PDPs) along three dimensions:
The literature on these questions is rich but not always conclusive. Studying it is essential to implement new CI approaches smartly. Dr. Spada emphasizes how the adoption of collective intelligence in governance is not a fail-proof approach, it requires humility and further empirical research to validate the claims made.
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