Urenio Watch Watch: Collective Intelligence

MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence basic research question is: How can people and computers be connected so that “collectively” they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before?

The Center brings together faculty from across MIT to conduct research on how new communications technologies are changing they way people work together. This research effort draws on the strengths of many diverse organizations across the Institute including; the MIT Media Lab, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and the MIT Sloan School of Management.

The working definition of collective intelligence that the Center is using is that collective intelligence is groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent.

“If you think about it that way collective intelligence has existed for a very long time” says Thomas W. Malone, Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. “But in the last few years we ‘ve seen some very interesting examples of new kinds of collective intelligence”:

  • Google, for instance, takes the collective knowledge created by millions of people making websites for other purposes and harnesses that collective knowledge–using some very clever algorithms and sophisticated technology–to produce amazingly intelligent answers to the questions we type in.
  • Wikipedia, at another extreme, uses much less sophisticated technology but some very clever organizational principles and motivational techniques to get thousands of people all over the world to volunteer their time to create an amazing on-line collection of knowledge.
  • Innocentive lets companies with difficult research problems harness the collective intelligence of thousands of scientists in a network all over the world to help solve those problems.
  • A lot of companies today–Hewlett Packard, Eli Lilly, Google and others–are now beginning to use things called prediction markets where people buy and sell predictions about future events (like sales of their products) in ways that leads to more accurate predictions in many cases than traditional market research or polling or other techniques.

According to Malone, these examples are just the beginning. “With new information technologies -especially the Internet- it is now possible to harness the intelligence of huge numbers of people, connected in very different ways and on a much larger scale than has ever been possible before. In order to take advantage of these possibilities, however, we need to understand what the possibilities are in a much deeper way than we do so far.” He suggests that the Center for Collective Intelligence should conduct at least three types of research:

  • Collect examples or case studies
  • Create new examples of the phenomena that its researchers want to study
  • Do systematic studies and experiments

Malone argues that the Center should finally create new theories to help tie all these things (case studies, new examples, and systematic experiments) together.