Collective Intelligence or Collecting Intelligence

Because I had some time recently I watched the whole batch of videos of the “Collective Intelligence Conference” from 2014 on youtube. It’s part of my exploration of that field, see what changed in the past years.

Well, those were pretty interesting talks but it stroke me that there was a clear ambiguity of terms there. It’s related to the english usage of the “intelligence” word. The exact same word in french only means the capacity to process information and take decisions. This is a human trait, somehow a way to distinguish us from the rest of the animal realm.

But in english it also is used by government as “data collection”, as in “business intelligence”, or “the intelligence community”. In french, we call that “renseignement”, so it’s a totally separate concept. So, from my french perspective, I didn’t anticipate the impact of this double meaning for the word “intelligence” while watching talks about “Collective Intelligence”.

So there was a lot of talks about crowdsourcing, about new ways to gather information from previously untaped sources by the way of massive internet participation. And not that much about the other intelligence which is about organizing data and structural design of human interaction.

They held conferences in 2012 but the links to videos failed, in 2014, which is the one I found videos for, in 2015 found no videos, in 2016 videos are in google drive. The 2017 edition is just happening right now and I hope there will be videos.

There are a lot of academic papers linked to those talks. Pretty good content.

But what I’m interested in seems to be a very small subset of what is called Collective Intelligence nowadays. I may need to define the term more explicitly. Let’s call it Intentional Collective Intelligence Engineering. Because as a software developer and a systems architect, I’m interested in building things, designing its cogs, anticipating its impact on usage and on norms.

While I like collecting feedback from the users of my solutions, I also know that the numerous choices you do when designing a system impact on the usages in very deep ways. Ways that the user cannot anticipate or imagine. Those are not always conscious habits that are influenced. There are always natural (or systemic) forces that drive a group to adopt specific strategies after having analyzed and matured the knowledge of its context.

And I’m pretty convinced that the Collective Intelligence I seek can be engineered. A proper environment, set of conventions, incentives and obstacles, can be deliberately designed for the purpose of emergence of that collective intelligence in a group of participants.

I have seen glimpses of it happen while participating in open source community development. I know there are bricks already existing to create various conditions necessary to the emergence. It’s not an utopia.

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