Thursday, June 03, 2010

collective intelligence?


MIT Spectrum | Can collective intelligence save the planet? “It’s the only hope we have,” says Prof. Thomas Malone, adding that “no one really knows whether we’ll succeed.”

Malone — who is “basically an optimist” and believes that in the end, we will probably make choices that will, in fact, save the Earth — is the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and is director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.

He launched the Center in 2006 in part to learn how to harness the collective intelligence of the planet to help solve the world’s biggest problems — climate change, poverty, terrorism, healthcare, or crime — problems too big to be solved by any one expert or group. While, he says, groups like countries, companies, armies, and families have used various forms of collective intelligence for centuries to solve problems, the goal of the Center is to combine pooled human brainpower with new information technologies “to solve problems in ways that would never have been thinkable before.”

Google, Wikipedia, Linux, and YouTube already are using pooled brainpower to bring forth new solutions, he says. Consider Google. Millions create websites linked to each other; the information is harvested by Google algorithms, so when you type in a question, the answers are amazingly intelligent. Or take Wikipedia, where thousands across the globe create a huge, high-quality intellectual project with almost no centralized control. To best use these systems, he says, we need to better understand them. That’s a main goal of the Center, where the big question is: How can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any person, group, or computer has ever done before?

One of their main projects is the Climate Collaboratorium, which harnesses the collective intelligence of thousands across the world to develop plans for what we can do about global climate change. Most recently, more than 2,000 users have visited the site, with 350 registered users, who have contributed 22 finalized plans with another 35 in progress. Users of the site include: the general public; world-class experts; moderators, who help organize and manage the input; and national and international policymakers.

Malone says: “We believe that for this site to realize its potential it should have at least thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people involved. Of course, we don’t know if this will happen, but we think it’s an experiment worth doing.”