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Collective intelligence

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Collective intelligence is a form of intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals. Collective intelligence appears in a wide variety of forms of consensus decision making in bacteria, animals, humans, and computers. The study of collective intelligence may properly be considered a subfield of sociology, of business, of computer science, and of mass behavior — a field that studies collective behavior from the level of quarks to the level of bacterial, plant, animal, and human societies.

The above definition has emerged from the writings of Peter Russell (1983), Tom Atlee (1993), Pierre Lévy (1994), Howard Bloom (1995), Francis Heylighen (1995), Douglas Engelbart, Cliff Joslyn, Ron Dembo, Gottfried Mayer-Kress (2003) and other theorists. Collective intelligence is referred to as Symbiotic intelligence by Norman L. Johnson.

Some figures like Tom Atlee prefer to focus on collective intelligence primarily in humans and actively work to upgrade what Howard Bloom calls "the group IQ". Atlee feels that collective intelligence can be encouraged "to overcome 'groupthink' and individual cognitive bias in order to allow a collective to cooperate on one process—while achieving enhanced intellectual performance."

One CI pioneer, George Pór, defined the collective intelligence phenomenon as "the capacity of human communities to evolve towards higher order complexity and harmony, through such innovation mechanisms as differentiation and integration, competition and collaboration."[1] Tom Atlee and George Pór state that "collective intelligence also involves achieving a single focus of attention and standard of metrics which provide an appropriate threshold of action". Their approach is rooted in Scientific Community Metaphor.

General concepts

Howard Bloom traces the evolution of collective intelligence from the days of our bacterial ancestors 3.5 billion years ago to the present and demonstrates how a multi-species intelligence has worked since the beginning of life. [2]

Tom Atlee and George Pór, on the other hand, feel that while group theory and artificial intelligence have something to offer, the field of collective intelligence should be seen by some as primarily a human enterprise in which mind-sets, a willingness to share, and an openness to the value of distributed intelligence for the common good are paramount. Individuals who respect collective intelligence, say Atlee and Pór, are confident of their own abilities and recognize that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of any individual parts. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

From Pór and Atlee's point of view, maximizing collective intelligence relies on the ability of an organization to accept and develop "The Golden Suggestion", which is any potentially useful input from any member. Groupthink often hampers collective intelligence by limiting input to a select few individuals or filtering potential Golden Suggestions without fully developing them to implementation.

Knowledge focusing through various voting methods has the potential for many unique perspectives to converge through the assumption that uninformed voting is to some degree random and can be filtered from the decision process leaving only a residue of informed consensus. Critics point out that often bad ideas, misunderstandings, and misconceptions are widely held, and that structuring of the decision process must favor experts who are presumably less prone to random or misinformed voting in a given context.

While these are the views of experts like Atlee and Pór, other founding fathers of collective intelligence see the field differently. Francis Heylighen, Valerie Turchin, and Gottfried Mayer-Kress view collective intelligence through the lens of computer science and cybernetics. Howard Bloom stresses the biological adaptations that have turned most of this earth's living beings into components of what he calls "a learning machine". And Peter Russell, Elisabet Sahtouris, and Barbara Marx Hubbard (originator of the term "conscious evolution") are inspired by the visions of a noosphere--a transcendent, rapidly evolving collective intelligence--an informational cortex of the planet.


An early precursor of the concept of collective intelligence was entomologist William Morton Wheeler's observation that seemingly independent individuals can cooperate so closely as to become indistinguishable from a single organism. In 1911 Wheeler saw this collaborative process at work in ants, who acted like the cells of a single beast with a collective mind. He called the larger creature that the colony seemed to form a "superorganism".

In 1912, Émile Durkheim identified society as the sole source of human logical thought. He argues in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life that society constitutes a higher intelligence because it transcends the individual over space and time. [3]

Collective intelligence, which has antecedents in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's concept of "noosphere" as well as H.G. Wells's concept of "world brain," has more recently been examined in depth by Pierre Lévy in a book by the same name, by Howard Bloom in Global Brain, by Howard Rheingold in Smart Mobs, and by Robert David Steele Vivas in The New Craft of Intelligence. The latter introduces the concept of all citizens as "intelligence minutemen," drawing only on legal and ethical sources of information, as able to create a "public intelligence" that keeps public officials and corporate managers honest, turning the concept of "national intelligence" on its head (previously concerned about spies and secrecy).

In 1986, Howard Bloom combined the concepts of apoptosis, parallel distributed processing, group selection, and the superorganism to produce a theory of how a collective intelligence works [4]. Later, he went further and showed how collective intelligences like those of competing bacterial colonies and of competing human societies can be explained in terms of computer-generated "complex adaptive systems" and the "genetic algorithms", concepts pioneered by John Holland. [2]

David Skrbina [5] cites the concept of a ‘group mind’ as being derived from Plato’s concept of panpsychism (that mind or consciousness is omnipresent and exists in all matter). He follows the development of the concept of a ‘group mind’ as articulated by Hobbes in relation to his Leviathan which functioned as a coherent entity and Fechner’s arguments for a collective consciousness of mankind. He cites Durkheim as the most notable advocate of a ‘collective consciousness” and Teilhard as the thinker who has developed the philosophical implications of the group mind more than any other.

Collective intelligence is an amplification of the precepts of the Founding Fathers, as represented by Thomas Jefferson in his statement, "A Nation's best defense is an educated citizenry." During the industrial era, schools and corporations took a turn toward separating elites from the people they expected to follow them. Both government and private sector organizations glorified bureaucracy and, with bureaucracy, secrecy and compartmentalized knowledge. In the past twenty years, a body of knowledge has emerged which demonstrates that secrecy is actually pathological, and enables selfish decisions against the public interest. Collective intelligence restores the power of the people over their society, and neutralizes the power of vested interests that manipulate information to concentrate wealth.

Types of collective intelligence

CI types1s

Examples of collective intelligence

The best-known collective intelligence projects are political parties, which mobilize large numbers of people to form policy, select candidates and to finance and run election campaigns. Military units, trade unions, and corporations are focused on more narrow concerns but would satisfy some definitions of a genuine "C.I."—the most rigorous definition would require a capacity to respond to very arbitrary conditions without orders or guidance from "law" or "customers" that tightly constrain actions.

Mathematical techniques

One measure sometimes applied, especially by more artificial intelligence focused theorists, is a "collective intelligence quotient" (or "cooperation quotient")—which presumably can be measured like the "individual" intelligence quotient (IQ)—thus making it possible to determine the marginal extra intelligence added by each new individual participating in the collective, thus using metrics to avoid the hazards of group think and stupidity.

In 2001, Tadeusz (Ted) Szuba from AGH University in Poland proposed a formal model for the phenomenon of Collective Intelligence. It is assumed to be an unconscious, random, parallel, and distributed computational process, run in mathematical logic by the social structure. [6].

In this model, beings and information are modeled as abstract information molecules carrying expressions of mathematical logic. They are quasi-randomly displacing due to their interaction with their environments with their intended displacements. Their interaction in abstract computational space creates multithread inference process which we perceive as Collective Intelligence. Thus, a non-Turing model of computation is used. This theory allows simple formal definition of Collective Intelligence as the property of social structure and seems to be working well for a wide spectrum of beings, from bacterial colonies up to human social structures. Collective Intelligence considered as a specific computational process is providing a straightforward explanation of several social phenomena. For this model of Collective Intelligence, the formal definition of IQS (IQ Social) was proposed and was defined as "the probability function over the time and domain of N-element inferences which are reflecting inference activity of the social structure." While IQS seems to be computationally hard, modeling of social structure in terms of a computational process as described above gives a chance for approximation. Prospective applications are optimization of companies through the maximization of their IQS, and the analysis of drug resistance against Collective Intelligence of bacterial colonies.[6]

Opposing views

Skeptics, especially those critical of artificial intelligence and more inclined to believe that risk of bodily harm and bodily action are the basis of all unity between people, are more likely to emphasize the capacity of a group to take action and withstand harm as one fluid mass mobilization, shrugging off harms the way a body shrugs off the loss of a few cells. This strain of thought is most obvious in the anti-globalization movement and characterized by the works of John Zerzan, Carol Moore, and Starhawk, who typically shun academics. These theorists are more likely to refer to ecological and collective wisdom and to the role of consensus process in making ontological distinctions than to any form of "intelligence" as such, which they often argue does not exist, or is mere "cleverness".

Harsh critics of artificial intelligence on ethical grounds are likely to promote collective wisdom-building methods, such as the new tribalists and the Gaians. Whether these can be said to be collective intelligence systems is an open question. Some, e.g. Bill Joy, simply wish to avoid any form of autonomous artificial intelligence and seem willing to work on rigorous collective intelligence in order to remove any possible niche for AI.

Recent developments

Growth of the Internet and mobile telecom has also highlighted "swarming" or "rendezvous" technologies that enable meetings or even dates on demand. The full impact of such technology on collective intelligence and political effort has yet to be felt, but the anti-globalization movement relies heavily on e-mail, cell phones, pagers, SMS, and other means of organizing before, during, and after events. One theorist involved in both political and theoretical activity, Tom Atlee, codifies on a disciplined basis the connections between these events and the political imperatives that drive them. The Indymedia organization does this in a more journalistic way, and there is some coverage of such current events even here at Wikipedia.

It seems likely that such resources could combine in future into a form of collective intelligence accountable only to the current participants but with some strong moral or linguistic guidance from generations of contributors - or even take on a more obviously political form, to advance some shared goals.

See also


  1. George Pór, Blog of Collective Intelligence
  2. 2.0 2.1 Howard Bloom, Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century, 2000
  3. Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1912.
  4. Howard Bloom, The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History, 1995
  5. Skrbina, D., 2001, Participation, Organization, and Mind: Toward a Participatory Worldview [1], ch. 8, Doctoral Thesis, Centre for Action Research in Professional Practice, School of Management, University of Bath: England
  6. 6.0 6.1 Szuba T., Computational Collective Intelligence, 420 pages, Wiley NY, 2001


Sun, Ron, (2006). "Cognition and Multi-Agent Interaction". Cambridge University Press.

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