Collective Intelligence at the Service of Progress

by Domenico Di Monte, President of Assofluid

Making reference to a few articles I’ve had the pleasure to read recently, I would like to kick off looking at “collective intelligence”, the evolution of the relationship between man and machine, leading to some interesting analysis concerning “association”. I am especially fascinated by the theories of Geoff Mulgan, academic and executive director at Nesta, one of Britain’s leading social innovation groups.

He believes the future will be underpinned by virtuous synergy, which will combine and improve both the human mind and technology. This connection between man and machine will create the collective intelligence phenomenon, in other words, what he refers to as “Big mind”, a kind of all seeing intelligence covering every format, that is constantly being up-dated thanks to input from many sources, creating a genuine “mobile growth of skills”.

This is such a fascinating concept because of its unlimited potential, development that will touch and embrace all fonts of knowledge, all skill sets coming together to form a potentially infinite virtuous circle. It suffices to imagine what results could be achieved were all parties involved in a process, both directly and indirectly, from employees to suppliers to clients, to be structured into one seamless flow of data.
This way of thinking, or prospect, however you prefer to call it, goes back a few years to a concept coined by the academic Pier Lévy, in 1994. He wrote a paper on the question of collective intelligence: “Collective intelligence, for an anthropological cyberspace”. What particularly enthuses me about these studies is the idea that no-one can know everything, but everyone knows something which will become the knowledge of humanity itself” (quote: Wikipedia). Growth becomes strictly linked to sharing knowledge.

Of course, we already have approaches that don’t require any technology but can, nonetheless, be considered collective thinking, such as the idea of brainstorming, used to solve problems or come up with new ideas. This is the virtuous process in which one idea leads to another, creating a circle that becomes a continuous movement of solutions and original ideas from the pro-active collaboration among different people whose ideas are tied to their individual skills.

I am absolutely convinced that progress cannot exist without a “method” being developed which would bring with it continued improvements in collective intelligence in all those areas in which new digital technology can render the decision making process ever more efficient. I am equally convinced that in our own small way, the association can contribute to this “method”. The only danger remains that of underestimating the value of single contributions, considering ideas to be equally valid without weighing up the skills or experience of those proposing the solutions, thereby risking confusing collective intelligence with ”the beliefs of the masses”, two very different concepts.

The wish is to harness the awareness of being part of a collective, to the contribution that individuals can make, leading to the stimulus for each and every one of us to search out our own personal continuous improvement.