By John Timmer | Published: October 13, 2006 – 03:32PM CT
The focus on collective intelligence appears to have been inspired by a number of indications that the internet is transforming the ability of people to work together, and enabling new forms of collaboration. CCI’s literature specifically cites Google, Wikipedia, and Innocentive as examples of new forms of collective accomplishment, and they have appointed Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and the CEO of Innocentive to their board. Their Handbook of Collective Intelligence, which attempts to both define the field and provide a moving snapshot of its current state of knowledge is, in fact, a Wiki.
Along with the center’s inauguration, CCI is embarking on its first collective endeavor in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. They, and anyone else at a “leading institution” is invited to contribute to a collectively authored book, currently going by the catchy title, “We are smarter than me.” Should the collective analysis of collective intelligence come together, it’s already got a publisher lined up in the form of the academic group Pearson Publishing.
Who’s studying what?
Reading through the literature at CCI, I was struck by a number of interesting potential questions that were suggested for possible topics of research. But I was equally struck by the lack of apparent mechanisms for turning these ideas into concrete research programs. In the absence of a clear structure that promotes or compels interactive and collective research, academic inertia presents a very real risk: left on their own, researchers will continue to work on what they always have. After all, it’s what they’re most interested in and best at.
One thing that may act against the CCI’s fostering of joint research is something else that leapt out at me: the lack of a clear definition of what constitutes collective intelligence. It’s not for lack of ideas, but rather an overabundance of them. Potential definitions and possible examples of collective intelligence appear in multiple places, and often seem to have little in common. The Handbook also suggests they are emphatically not interested in a related phenomenon, collective stupidity, but provide no indication of how to objectively distinguish the two.
Overall, it appears that the CCI have a long way to go to simply define the problems they’re exploring. Perhaps, if they manage to overcome this and other obstacles, they’ll make a nice case study for their own faculty.