Collective Intelligence: A Dispatch from The Nantucket Project
The most basic definition of collective intelligence is to get group of people to do something collectively that seems intelligent. A profound definition is the creation a global brain.
What is the purpose of 350 people gathering for a weekend-long conference on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts?
The most simple, and humble answer is to get this group of people to do something collectively that seems intelligent. That definition of collective intelligence comes from Tom Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence where he uses teams to tackle global problems like climate change.
Collective Intelligence was the theme of this year's Nantucket Project, an event full of big ideas and bold-faced names that was held from October 5 to October 8th on Nantucket. In the coming weeks, Big Think -- co-partners of the event -- will be releasing video highlights on this blog. The slideshow below offers a snapshot of what's to come -- Peter Thiel and Vivek Wadwa butting heads on education and innovation; top financial thinkers Larry Summers, Eddie Lampert, Bob Diamond and David Rubenstein debating the notion of "radical transparency"; Dambisa Moyo, John Kerry, Grover Norquist, Chris Matthews, David Gergen, Elizabeth Stark and Larry Lessig presenting solutions to political issues and much, much more.
Here are some of the many highlights from the 2012 Nantucket Project:
All photos courtesy of Meghan Brosnan.
What's the Big Idea?
Tom Malone says it's not good enough to simply put a group of smart people together. Let's say one person dominates the conversation. The group will not be exercising collective intelligence. Let's say there is a high number of women in the group. Then we're getting somewhere. According to Malone's findings, groups do well when they are composed of people who are socially perceptive.
Of course, collective intelligence has existed for a long time. Organizational units such as families, companies, countries and armies are all examples of groups of people working together in ways that seem intelligent, says Malone. And yet, in the last few years we've seen some new kinds of collective intelligence enabled by the Internet. For this reason, Malone's basic research question for every project at MIT is this:
Malone believes that as our world becomes more closely connected it will become "more and more useful to view all of the people and computers on our planet as a single global brain." Perhaps our success as a species depends on how well we're able to use our global collective intelligence "to make choices that are not just smart but also wise."
What's the Significance?
While the Internet has exponentially increased the rate of knowledge transfer and lowered traditional barriers to participation, there are both positive and negative outcomes to this. Let's start with examples that suggest technological optimism.
These are a few examples that represent Internet-enabled Collective Intelligence, which is still in its infancy. And yet, many of these advances are offset by externalities or counter-trends that represent threats to progress. A few examples are:
Stay tuned to this blog for a thorough and provocative discussion of these issues and many others.
All photos courtesy of Meghan Brosnan.
Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter: @danielhonan
To learn more about The Nantucket Project and how to attend the 2013 event visit nantucketproject.com.
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