Social Collective Intelligence: Building Smarter Organisations and Societies

What is Social Collective Intelligence?

Collective Intelligence combines elements of Sociobiology, Psychology, Economics and Computer Science. Ideas surrounding the benefits of Collective Intelligence originate from Aristotle but it was not until recent years that extensive research has been conducted in this area. This is largely due to the advances in social technologies and AI over the last decade. Pierre Levy defined collective intelligence as “a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilisation of skills. I’ll add the following indispensable characteristic to this definition: the basis and goal of collective intelligence is mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the cult of fetishised or hypostatised communities.”

Collective Intelligence is sometimes referred to as the “Wisdom of Crowds,” a term that rose to prominence following James Surowicki’s 2004 book of the same name where he argued that decisions and predictions are better achieved with groups of people rather than a single individual.

However, in the age of digital innovation, artificial intelligence and increasing interconnectivity, a new frontier in Collective Intelligence has emerged – Social Collective Intelligence. This is defined as an emergent property where networks of people and computers act together to combine their knowledge and insight.

There is a plethora of examples within the natural world that demonstrate collective intelligence in action. One of the most notable is the way ant colonies work together to build nests, collect food and defend against predators.

Other examples include bird flocking (e.g. migrating in groups), animal herding, bacterial growth, fish schooling and microbial intelligence.

Applications in society and organisations

1) Ideation

Organisations value openness, transparency and honesty more than ever before and tools that harness the social collective intelligence of employees and customers are increasingly being used. Principally, organisations use these tools for ideation, innovation and diagnosing problems. They can understand in greater granularity how employees or customers feel and what can be done to improve certain issues. Community ratings and commentary allow the ideas that resonate most with the community to rise to the surface. These insights can then be actioned accordingly.

2) Coordination

Organisations can also use social collective intelligence tools for coordination and collaboration within departments or work teams. This allows groups of individuals to work together more efficiently to complete tasks. Many argue that social media has impacted organisations by rapidly mobilising and organising employees in this way.

The same idea of social collective intelligence mobilising individuals through technology can be seen in the anti-globalisation movement (or any similar movement) that relies on the mobilising of individuals through emails, SMS and calls. The coordination of individuals through social collective intelligence is thought of as a democratic process and thus many such movements are successful in their goals.

3) Predictions

One of the most successful applications of social collective intelligence in society is Crowd Predictions. Aggregating diverse opinions, intelligence and experiences allows people to make accurate predictions. Collective Intelligence tools can be used to predict the outcomes of political events, legal disputes and general future trends (e.g. the impact of AI on society).

Impact on surveys

Surveys are a large part of organisations both for employees and customers. Simple survey methodologies do provide Collective Intelligence of a sort, but what they lack is a social element that enables participants to evaluate each other’s responses. Crowdoscope, for example, overcomes this problem by allowing participants to read and evaluate each other’s comments. If a group is interacting in a system that has been carefully designed to optimise their input and extract insight then the level of Collective Intelligence obtained can be far greater than any survey. With the acquirement of more collective intelligence tools within organisations, the traditional approach to surveys is being radically disrupted leading to a much more social approach to opinion research.

Looking to the future

Collective Intelligence and the sub-disciplines associated with it (e.g. Crowd Predictions, Community Memory, Swarm Intelligence etc.) are an expanding area of research within academia, business and government. The importance of collective intelligence within society and organisations is being recognised as a form of self-preservation. As individuals, humans will simply not survive in the future – working together benefits everyone. Thus the acquirement of social collective intelligence tools will hugely benefit society in the future.

The impact of Artificial Intelligence on Collective Intelligence is also an area that is starting to receive considerable attention. Others are hoping that social collective intelligence could be used to solve global issues such as climate change, poverty and deforestation through coordination and collaboration of ideas and solutions.

There are numerous examples and applications of collective intelligence within society and within organisations from ideation to collaboration to predicting the future. Through technologies that are redefining how collective insights are generated (e.g. Crowdoscope, Unanimous AI, Waggl) people within different geographical locations can coordinate and share their ideas, suggestions or criticisms and discover the shared experiences of others. Moreover, platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk, CrowdFlower and Keras combine Human Collective Intelligence with AI to complete a range of tasks that could otherwise not be undertaken such as predictions. Other predictive technologies such as Cindicator, Unanimous AI and the Good Judgement Project harness the wisdom of crowds to predict world events such as political results. These technologies “are helping to overcome some of the social constraints that impact real world interactions – we are witnessing the creation of new and exciting ways of generating collective intelligence,” notes Crowdoscope Founder Michael Silverman.

Whatever the specifics of the application, Collective Intelligence is enabling organisations to tap into the shared knowledge and expertise of large and diverse groups of people to address a variety of challenges. It is Social Collective Intelligence, resulting from the rapid development of social and digital technologies, which is both new and exciting and this is just the beginning of the story for this discipline.

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