The most referenced concept of “Collective Intelligence” is the one of the MIT Center of Collective Intelligence (CCI): “Groups of individuals acting collectively in ways that seem intelligent”. I already said that it seems to me a weak definition because it is too vague and because it has a limited operative value.
I understand the reasons of the CCI to define a conceptual framework as flexible as possible, especially considering that it is indeed an emerging area of study and it is intended to highlight the inter-disciplinary nature of this field. But even so, I think that trying to fit all the possible definitions in a politically correct one leads to a decaffeinated definition, whose main weakness is that it is not useful to discern.
A good concept is not one that tries to adapt to all existing perspectives, but the one that helps to understand the limits of the identity of something, that is to say, what do we leave inside and outside of the subject we try to define. In fact, often the most effective way to test the reliability of a concept is to see how much it helps to leave things out, that is, it serves to discern.
In my last post I proposed an alternative definition of “collective intelligence” with which I feel more comfortable: “Capacity of a group of individuals to collaboratively optimize the decisions that affect them as a group“, but I said that I would continue sharpening the concept until finding one that convinced to me at all.
I’m working on it, so after testing my previous definition in new situations, I noticed that it is incomplete, it needs something else; and at the same time it may be too restrictive in some aspect.
Regarding the first point, I state that a distinctive property of Collective Intelligence is the “emergency”, i.e., it must occur an effect of “aggregation” of information to emerge a “collective” result or behavior that is new, different from the mere sum of the individual opinions.
In short, what we call “collective intelligence” is essentially a process of “aggregation” (including synthesis, to be more exact) that allows the result to be the “group’s point of view” rather than a loose collection of personal perspectives.
A group that really works as a group, that is, that activates aggregation mechanisms to combine the individual contributions and it translates them in a common decision, it is indicating a certain degree of “collective intelligence”. It can be better or worse depending on the quality of these interactions and the effectiveness/efficiency of its aggregation mechanisms. Conversely, if the group expresses itself to a problem as a dispersed collection of points of views, without coherence and uniqueness in its ability to decide, then we would be talking about something different.
In my opinion, the property of “emergency” (i.e. something new is generated at group level) is so critical as a tool of discernment, that I want to correct my previous definition to propose this one:
Capacity of a group of individuals to collaboratively optimize the decisions that impact them as a collective, through aggregation mechanisms that generate a behavior distinct from the mere sum of its parts.
The second doubt concerns whether the adverb “collaboratively” may be too restrictive. This is a dilemma that generates enough discrepancy, which has been postponed pragmatically in order to understand the IC of the most flexible way to fit it all visions.
The question that I attempt to respond is this: Can we improve o amplify the “collective intelligence” by means of processes in which the participants are not conscious to be interacting to each other? Or simply put: Can we conceive the Collective Intelligence without collaboration?
I know that this dilemma is complex, so I leave it for the following post 🙂
Note: Read this post in Spanish (Lee este post en Español)