Collective Intelligence And The Internet

The Guardian has a list of the ‘top ten books on the internet’ selected by John Naughton (who is an Irish academic and journalist and well-known as a historian of the internet).

Doubtless all ten are extremely good but one in particular caught my attention to the extent that I’ve decided to actually read it:

Darwin Among the Machines: the evolution of global intelligence by George Dyson

One of the most original and intriguing books of the last two decades.  Dyson argues that intelligence is always an emergent phenomenon – that is, a property of whole systems that cannot be inferred from studying their components in isolation.  Thus human intelligence “emerges” from a collection of unintelligent neurons.  Dyson pushes this idea to what he sees as its logical conclusion: if the internet is (as indeed it is) a global system of densely interconnected computer networks – together with the intellects of their users – then this global system should exhibit a new kind of “collective intelligence” as an emergent property.  It’s a sobering – and exhilarating – thought.

I’ve heard of it before (it was first published in 1998) but I’d never got round to acquiring it. The synopsis above certainly whetted my appetite!

As an aside, at MIT they’ve set up a Center for Collective Intelligence:

While people have talked about collective intelligence for decades, new communication technologies—especially the Internet—now allow huge numbers of people all over the planet to work together in new ways.  The recent successes of systems like Google and Wikipedia suggest that the time is now ripe for many more such systems, and the goal of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence is to understand how to take advantage of these possibilities.

Our 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?’


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