September 20, 2009

From hardware-based sensors of the physical to software-based sensors of the social

John Seely Brown.jpgQuotes in this blogpost are from “Ecological Computing,”

by John Seely Brown and Feng Zhao.

Confluences and their combined confluence

Looking back at the first decades of the third millennium, humans will see them as the era of the Great Transition, an unexpected result brought to us by a confluence of many confluences.

Writing about an omni-present, planet-scale sensor network that will dwarf the Internet by many orders of magnitude, and its implications for biological and computing ecologies, John Seely Brown mentioned:

“The transformational force underlying this change is the confluence of recent rapid technological advances such as micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) sensors and actuators, wireless and mobile networking, and low-power embedded microprocessors… When the sensor grid becomes ubiquitous it becomes like an enormous digital retina stretched over the surface of the planet.”

The idea of a planet-scale sensor network evokes an orbital view of not only the confluence of technological developments that make it possible but also, the other confluences that such network contributes to and mingles with. For example, the confluence of shifts from authority to authenticity as driver of social organization, from scarcity to wide availability of knowledge, and from groupware to massively distributed social media that link up mega-millions of minds.

“Let's add intelligent browsers to this vast sensing system that lets scientists, government regulators, or environmental advocates use the internet to ask questions never before imaginable.”

When we’ll use such browsers for navigating on the ocean of data obtained from networked indicators of social well-being, collective moods, diseases in the global social body, and challenges to collective intelligence and wisdom, then we’ll have made a decisive step towards the bulk of humankind joining in a self-aware meta-being.

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November 10, 2008

Obama, collective intelligence, and Current TV

Gore is pitching CI at Web 2 Summit.jpgAl Gore made an intriguing comment about the presidential election at the recent Web 2.0 Summit.

"One of the reasons we were all thrilled Tuesday night is it was pretty obvious this was a collectively intelligent decision."

That made me wonder, what if Gore's Current TV became a more conscious and competent vehicle for bottom-up “collective intelligence” generation, by engaging the combined power of social and electronic technologies for CI?

Gore's statement comes 1/2 later than my "With Obama, for a new kind of “surge” – the surge of social creativity and collective intelligence" and "Resources for amplifying our collective intelligence and collective wisdom" blog entries at Obama's site but what is important that he would have more chance to act on them with a higher leverage than me. Let's see what he will do with it.

January 27, 2008

CI through the "political economy" lens

What was "collective intelligence" in the cognitive and evolutionary contexts, becomes "general intellect," in the language of political economy. The difference is not only semantic. The general intellect embodied in the collective knowing of the society, embedded in all the ways of its knowing, has always been a force that shaped the creative capacities and daily life of people and organizations.

"Marx suggested that at a certain point in the development of capital... the crucial factor in production will become the ‘development of the general powers of the human head’; ‘general social knowledge’; social intellect; or, in a striking metaphor, the 'general productive forces of the social brain’." (Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism, by Nick Dyer-Witheford, 1999)

A more attentive reading of Marx' Grundrisse, his notes for Das Kapital that were published after his death, reveals that there is more than the social intellect, more than the gifts of the social brain that flow into our general intellect.

"General Intellect consists in a number of competences that are inscribed in the social environment organized by capitalist machinery, and hence available freely to its participants, by virtue of their existence as ‘social individuals’. These competences can be cognitive, as in technical or scientific knowledge, but they are also social and affective..." (Ethics and General Intellect, in Ethical Economy, by Adam Arvidsson, 2006)

Diving into the far-reaching implications of Arvidsson's statement is food for future thought. For now, we share a few quotes from Empire, which may illuminate the portent of this issue. "The danger of discourse of general intellect is that it risks remaining entirely on the same plan of thought, as if the new powers of labor were only intellectual and not also corporeal… As we saw earlier, new forces and new positions of affective labor characterize labor power as much as intellectual labor does.” (Empire, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, 2001)

Avoiding the danger of conceiving "general intellect" as something only intellectual is what Lazzarato accomplished (in "General Intellect: towards an inquiry into immaterial labour", Common Sense #22, 1996), by strengthening his analysis with a few relevant passages of the Grundrisse. A key component of Lazzarato's concept of "immaterial labour" is what he, Negri and other authors of the Italian-French "autonomist" school of thought described in Multitudes magazine. They refer to it as "affective labour." That distinction opened a whole new domain of inquiry where political economy and social psychology overlap.

What happens when we apply the "general intellect" lens to realize a fuller meaning of "collective intelligence?" It gives us access to CI in the long view, the broad sweeps of social evolution, past and future included.

Visualizing that long view as the vertical plane, we can add "collective intelligence" as the horizontal axis. In that sense, CI is the ensemble of capabilities, knowledge, and tools available to a collective entity, in the given stage of its evolution, for creating its desired future.

The spiral that is expanding from the point where the vertical and horizontal planes intersect, is driven by the co-evolutionary dynamics that plays in the macro/micro and global/local scales of CI.

(Excerpt from my Working Paper on Collective Intelligece and Collective Leadership)

August 19, 2004

Gaian democracies and CI

I received this link from a friend:

I went there, read it and also another page at that site: the intro chapter of GAIAN DEMOCRACIES: Redefining Globalisation and People-Power by Roy Madron & John Jopling. Brilliant!! They are convincingly talking about addressing “wicked” problems with soft-systems approaches.

I believe the Gaian democracy field represents one of the most powerful context for which we can grow collective intelligence and wisdom. Liberating the full power of intelligence and wisdom that resides in human communities will be needed to break through the web of 'wicked' problems and reach Gaian democracy. As the authors say, The soft-systems approach to 'wicked' problems arising in complex human systems requires the people involved in the problem situation to be actively involved in a constant cycle of thinking, acting and learning together.

The best frameworks, tools, and practices developed by leading thinkers and communities in the domains of collective intelligence and wisdom need to be brought in action if we are to make those “constant cycle of thinking, acting and learning together” truly triple-E: effective, efficient, and enjoyable. Deeply interweaving the CI/CW fields with Gaian democracy work would accelerate the evolution of both. I look forward to it with joyful anticipation!

August 8, 2004

Cross-fertilizing CI and civic intelligence

I know it's a short notice but I've received the news only last night. The opportunity it represents for the cross-fertilization of the "collective intelligence" and the "civic intelligence" phenomena is just too important to not try to alert you all about it.

According to Doug Schuler, one of the thought leaders of civic intelligence, "Society often develops intelligent responses to collective problems often through citizen activism. At the same time, our innumerable problems may be outpacing our ability to address them and the ideas, tactics and technologies that we need may not be adequate... Civic intelligence goes beyond the individual and focuses on the collective and distributed nature of intelligence." excerpt from Civic Intelligence pattern

It seems that the civic intelligence initiatives, such as A Pattern Language Project, could benefit from the significant work that has been done on the field of collective intelligence, and vice versa.

Here's an opportunity to engage the dialogue. The Journal of Human Centred Systems will have a special issue on Exploring Civic Intelligence: Descriptions & Prescriptions. Due date for submission of extended abstracts (1000 words) is August 13, 2004. Details of the Call for Papers are here. If some of you reading this blog are also interested in CI applied to civic matters, then this maybe the perfect opportunity to collaborate on a paper that can feed and cross-polinate those fields.

July 3, 2004

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, Polarization, and CI

I read in an email that I’ve just received from Tom Atlee:
(The quotes are authorized to publish.)

There is a lot of conversation about polarization, and a flurry of Op Ed pieces about it, from both the Left and the Right... that has been triggered by Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11. Polarization is one of the major obstacles to people coming together co-intelligently... But attacking an individual or group for polarizing the conversation can, by marginalizing them, undermine informed dialogue and collective intelligence. The kind of anti-polarization work that is needed, in contrast, is persistent, open exploration of the polarizing forces in and around all of us, and the polarizing activities of all sides.

If we want to enhance collective intelligence in our political process, the important thing is not to silence the polarizing partisans. The most important thing is to establish adequate forums where citizens can hear articulate advocates of opposing views; productively deliberate about their ideas, information and proposals; and creatively use those different perspectives to arrive at understandings and policies that serve them and their collective welfare.

To read the whole text of Tom’s astute observation and analysis of what is going on around Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, click here.

The political sphere is deeply divided by partisan interests everywhere but probably nowhere more so than in the United States. Yet, not thinking of politics as a domain from which collective intelligence can emerge just as much as from business, scientific or blogging communities, is an oversight. The work of Tom and his Co-Intelligence Institute is challenging it. We’re working on starting and nurturing a multi-disciplinary dialogue involving him and representatives of all the other streams of the CI field. Stay tuned.