Collective intelligence exists as a natural property of the living, and it has become a new research discipline.
This page gives an overview. From there you can navigate many topics and branches, and come back to explore new directions.
Collective intelligence as a property of the living
No life could exist without collective intelligence. Collective intelligence of cells and many microorganisms (bacteria, archaea) that compose the bodies of animals and plants. Collective intelligence because of the collaboration that exists between individuals and between species.
The word “intelligence” expresses a property that nobody can confine into a single definition. For this same reason, we cannot enclose collective intelligence inside a definition. However we can reference manifestations of collective intelligence.
For instance, collective intelligence manifests itself when a group of individuals organizes itself in order to achieve a goal together (teleonomy principle). Note that we don’t specify which individuals and how many. A collective begins with two and up to millions of individuals such as plants, animals, humans, or microorganisms (cells, bacterias, viruses…).
Examples: an ant colony cutting and insect into pieces, a group of dolphins hunting a school of fish, trees producing together a toxic substance to discard predators, bacteria communicating together to adapt to their environment, a jazz band playing music, a company making business, the scientific community sharing knowledge to make new discoveries. Collective intelligence operates at micro scales (microbial intelligence) and macro scales (ecosystems, large corporations, cities, countries…).
In every case, a whole composed of individuals emerges and operates more or less like a single living entity, with different degrees of success.
Collective intelligence also relates on the principle of positive sum economy because individuals obtain a higher benefit operating together than if they remained alone. For instance a pack of wolves can catch preys that run faster and have a bigger size than an individual wolf ; an ant colony can capture and kill big and fast insects (and sometimes animals) that no ant alone could ever reach.
Collective intelligence as a research field
As a research discipline, collective intelligence consists in understanding how life builds social organisms and social intelligence. What forms of collective intelligence exist? How do they operate? How do they interact? What potential limitations do each of them have? How do they evolve? What new forms of collective intelligence emerge in humanity today? How should we build the next organizations?
Collective intelligence provides us with a technical language for social engineering. We cannot make airplanes fly by using conventional language, for this same reason we cannot build evolved collectives without a specific ontology.
Collective intelligence addresses some of the most crucial questions of our times
Hunger, poverty, unsustainability, war, healthcare, illiteracy, pollution, global warming, consumerism… All these issues lead to one single common question at their core: our capability to build human organizations that no longer create such outcomes. Our main stake consists in collective intelligence.
Today large organizations (governments, corporations, administrations…) encounter insurmountable difficulties when dealing with the complexity and the unexpectedness of the world. They undergo conflicts of interest in many areas – between profitability and sustainability, secrecy and transparency, values and value, individual and collective dynamics, and knowledge fertilizing – that opens – and competition – that closes.
Every medium and large organizations have in common an infrastructure based on pyramidal hard-coded social maps, a chain of command, labor division, and a monetary system built on debt and scarcity. Until recently, this social architecture was the only one at our disposal to pilot and organize big complex human edifices. We call it pyramidal collective intelligence. This form of collective intelligence has a poor capacity to adapt, to learn, to think in non-linear ways, to address fractal complexity, to reconcile individual and collective interests, to play for the commons rather than their own survival interests.
Can humanity build agile, learning, flexible, innovative organizations? Organizations that operate at a local and global level at the same time, that can thrive as a social organism and serve the whole web of life, that don’t create winners on one side and losers on the other, that reconcile individual and collective interest? Can humanity build these win-win-win, wisdom driven organizations?
From what we observe through the next emerging forms of collective intelligence, we say yes. As a research field, collective intelligence gives us a resounding yes too.
Different forms of collective intelligence
Four different forms of collective intelligence co-exist in the animal and human word: swarm, original, pyramidal, holomidal.
Swarm Collective Intelligence
Swarm collective intelligence caracterizes groups composed of a hight number of individuals: social insects (ant, bees, wasps, termites) through eusociality, big herds, flochs of birds, schools of fish. Read more…
Original Collective Intelligence
Original collective intelligence consists in small groups composed of highly specialized individuals. Examples: wolves, dolphins, big cats, apes, humans, geese, ducks.
Pyramidal Collective Intelligence
Pyramidal collective intelligence allowed human species to build large collectives via the leverage of centralized power and chains of commands. Examples: armies, governments, corporations, churches, administrations, NGO’s. Read more…
Holomidal Collective Intelligence
This form of collective intelligence appeared very recently in the early 2000 and grows extremely fast. Distributed, agile, based on leadership, Internet, it supersedes pyramidal collective intelligence. Read more…
Collective intelligence in the plant world
Intelligence in the plant world remains a fertile field of exploration. A field that we cannot address from an animal-morphic point of view. For instance, as animals, we tend to link consciousness with a single body. But what does make a body? A single plant? An essence?
We will leave this question aside for the moment.