“Collective Intelligence 2012”: Prof. Tom Malone on how new technologies are changing the ways people and computers work together

Collective intelligence, in some form, has been around at least as long as humans have.  Families, armies, countries, and companies have all—at least sometimes—acted collectively in ways that seem intelligent.

But in the last few years, a new kind of collective intelligence has begun to emerge: groups of people and computers, connected by the Internet, collectively doing intelligent things. Consider Google, for instance. Its technology harvests knowledge created by millions of people generating and linking web pages and then uses this knowledge to answer queries in ways that often seem remarkably intelligent. Wikipedia, which bills itself as the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” is another example. There thousands of people from around the world have cooperatively created a very large and amazingly high quality intellectual product with almost no centralized control, and almost all as volunteers!

These examples of Internet-enabled collective intelligence are not the end of the story but just the beginning. In order to understand the possibilities and constraints of these new kinds of intelligence, we need a new interdisciplinary field. Forming such a field is one of the goals of the upcoming conference, Collective Intelligence 2012, that’s being hosted at MIT April 18-20. I am co-chairing the event with my colleague, Luis von Ahn, a professor in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon.

The organizing committee spent some time debating the scope of the conference, and we ended up defining it as behavior that is both collective and intelligent. By collective, we mean groups of individual actors, including, for example, people, computational agents, and organizations. By intelligent, we mean that the collective behavior of the group exhibits characteristics such as perception, learning, judgment, or problem solving.

Some of the topics we will address at the conference include: social computing, which refers to the intersection of social behavior and computers—everything from blogs, email, and social networks, to online auctions and prediction markets; human computation, which is a computer science technique in which some of the calculations and processes are performed by people, not machines; and crowdsourcing, an on- or offline problem-solving process where tasks are farmed out to a network of people.

Collective intelligence (CI) is an emerging interdisciplinary field that overlaps with many other disciplines, including computer science, management, network science, economics, social psychology, sociology, political science, and biology (e.g., social insects). Here at MIT, for instance, the Center for Collective Intelligence is housed within the Sloan School of Management. But it includes people from MIT’s computer science department, its brain and cognitive science department, and the Media Lab.

Our conference will include researchers who are trying to solve deep scientific questions such as: What are the conditions that lead groups to become more collectively intelligent instead of, say, collectively stupid? The answers to these are theoretical questions can have huge, practical implications. They can, for instance, help companies become more productive and help societies solve their problems more effectively.

These have been our goals in the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence since its founding just over five years ago, and I hope this conference will help catalyze a much broader community of people working toward these same goals.

Read more about the conference in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald

Thomas Malone is the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

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3 Comments

  1. ukobong u. Inyang
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink | Reply

    am a graduate of estate management, which discipline will be most appropriate for a second degree in MIT

  2. cdlinghq
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink | Reply

    I will be following the #ci2012 thread on twitter. I wish I could be there.

    With Cdling (pronounced “Cdling”) we are trying to solve the wicked problem of how to allocation attention and resources more productively across startups.

    We use a combination of social network analysis, financial analysis and prediction markets in our solution to weight signals across global startup ecosystems more productively than the traditional filters that are used to rate innovation which have not changed much since the times of a Roman Arcade.

    Instead of startup markets that are low trust, bound by geography and have based upon who you know; we deliver a platform that incorporates well known strategies for measuring risk and aggregating opinion:

    – a “FICO-like” rating that relates an individual’s experience and social capital within their local startup community,
    – S&P like analysis to expertly interpret the information shared by startups and its observed behaviour, and,
    – stock markets are an aggregation of opinions about the future prospects of companies. We prediction markets we can relive the problem of liquidity in trade of startup up equities.

    We would be grateful if anyone following this collective intelligence conversation would join our closed alpha group that started in March.

    Please visit m.cdling.com/org/ci2012/medium

    Kind Regards,
    Michael Cayley
    Founder
    Cdling

    • cdlinghq
      Posted April 19, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink | Reply

      sorry – (pronounced “seedling”)

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