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January 1, 2012

On Collective Intelligence


On October 22, I was fortunate to participate as a guest speaker during the Internet Caracas 2011; a three day event on technology, at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. My professional background spans several decades in the IT / business field … And for the past several years I have been quite interested in the field of Collective Intelligence (CI) and this was precisely what I talked about.

CI is not a new field of study. However, with the explosive growth of communications and worldwide people interconnectedness, CI has developed renewed interest and a healthy following.

The talk was mostly addressed to the layperson and tried to create CI awareness and perhaps even interest which might lead to further studies and/or real life applications.

Before jumping in on the talk I introduced the audience to some important cultural differences between Northern cultures and Mediterranean cultures that could have an impact on the appreciation of CI. I also spoke about related topics such as:

  • The end of the nation state
  • Why monopolies are evil
  • The Empire of One
  • Why it is important to develop skepticism

During my presentation I introduced the audience to some historical elements on CI. I touched upon James Surowiecki’s book called The Wisdom of Crowds. Also, I used Prof. Tom Malone’s CI definition; he is the head for the Center of Collective Intelligence at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.  His definition states that CI could be viewed as:

“Groups of people connected through computer networks acting more intelligently than any of them acting alone.”

I discussed some of the areas covered within the CI umbrella and then moved on to Complex Systems and its respective barriers; an area in which CI shows a lot of promise. Needless to say, in our ever more complex world in which we are mired in huge crises, CI problem solving capabilities becomes even more pressing.

In order to understand CI, I covered the topic of Hierarchical Organizations and especially corporate organizations and institutions in general. Nonetheless, I highlighted the importance to avoid “Collective Stupidity” which can be nefarious to organizations and society at large such as when a group enters into Groupthink or Information Cascades.

Over the years I have developed a theory that one important reason why higher level organisms such as mammals, organize themselves into hierarchical packs, with the alpha male at the top, is partly due to the need to manage information. We, humans, cannot handle multiple channels of communications simultaneously. However, the advent of the networking society and the Emergent Properties that such constructs create, has allowed us to develop new forms of organizations which manifest themselves as spontaneous and self organizing.

Lastly, I covered some basic telecommunications topologies in which I equated the functioning of hierarchical organizations vis-à-vis flat or fully-meshed networks.

Following you can watch the complete YouTube video; however it is in Spanish. Furthermore, I don’t have transcripts which I could translate to English. However, if there are several people who wish transcripts in English, I could endeavor to make it available. Just send me a request and/or post a comment to that effect.

60 Minute talk on Collective Intelligence (Spanish)


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