Forget IQ, Collective Intelligence is the New Measure of Smart (video)

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COSI image of Einstein

We may focus on the stories of individual genius, but it will be harnessing the intelligence of the collective that enables humanity to solve its future problems.

Do you know your IQ, that little number that’s supposed to measure how smart you are? Forget it. Individual intelligence is old news, collective intelligence (CI) is the future. And it’s already here. Google lets you access the collective records of the world via internet searches. Wikipedia assembles the shared knowledge of humanity in an ever refined research tool that anyone can access. Oh, these systems have their limits, to be sure, but they allow an individual to quickly leverage the expertise of millions in just a few seconds. That’s incredible, and that’s the promise of CI. The Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT was formed in 2006 by Thomas Malone and his colleagues. CCI tries to answer a guiding question: how can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any individual, group, or computer has ever done before? Thomas Malone addressed the World Economic Forum in Switzerland earlier this year and explained the nature of collective intelligence, how we may track it, and how it could help solve problems like climate change. Check out his talk in the video below.

Collective intelligence can include distributed computing. We’ve seen how a complex problem can be solved by using millions of connected computers working in tandem. So too can any task be divided among a set of human peers. You do this all the time at work, or at home with your family. CI takes the same phenomenon and spreads it among thousands or millions. Linux, the operating system, is an example of CI – it was built and is continually updated by the collective work of its users. Similarly, OpenWetWare is a synthetic biology resource maintained by a group of users, generally with expertise in the field. Future CI may rely on cultivating expertise (among billions of humans, there is likely to be at least one expert in every possible field). It could also harness the statistical genius of a collective of average people (among billions of humans, there’s bound to be at least a few people who have a great idea about a problem).

The great advantage of CI as opposed to IQ, is that CI is growing rapidly, probably exponentially. Individual intelligence is hard to measure – there are many critiques of IQ testing based on racial bias, economic bias, the limited scope of what kinds of skills are tested, and how such tests are applied. Still, it seems that the average IQ is slowly growing at a rate of 3 points per decade – the so-called Flynn Effect. Again, there’s debate over what causes the Flynn Effect (genetics, socialization, nutrition, etc.), but the trend is there. It’s just too slow to really matter. A slight rise in individual intelligence can’t compare to the effect of hundreds of millions of people going online in the next decade. Internet connectivity is increasing quicker than biology could every hope to keep up with.

Another reason why CI will dominate IQ is that individual intelligence is subsumed by the collective. An expert or genius can participate in a group task as easily as an average person. Collective intelligence reflects the group work of the smart, the average, and the dull. While this may seem to average out, a wise application of CI will be able to filter out the dross while saving the best work – no matter where it comes from.

To this end, CCI at MIT is working to understand and guide collective intelligence. Their research includes way to measure CI, studies of how CI is already used in organizations, and tracking how individuals interact in a group. They’ve even started a Handbook of Collective Intelligence – it’s written and edited as a wiki of course. CCI at MIT is also working on applications for collective intelligence: they’re looking into how groups may generate solutions to climate change, make accurate predictions about the future, or find ways to improve healthcare.

Collective intelligence can also take the form of collective art or creativity. Do you play a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG)? Games like World of Warcraft allow millions of users to create a shared entertainment experience within a controlled virtual environment. Little Big Planet and similar games actually have users build levels for other users to explore. The best levels get shared and enjoyed more – CI creates a better video game. CNN has an interesting story about how this trend is extending into other artistic media like music and film.

Kim-Ung Yong might be the world’s smartest man, his IQ is reportedly 210. Marilyn Vos Savant may have an IQ of 186 or even 230 (depends on how you measure it). But these are just the brightest stars in a Milky Way of intelligence. As many average computers can be harnessed into doing the work of a supercomputer (or many such supercomputers), so too will we harness our individual minds for a shared goal through the internet. In fact, CI is really a combination of both these trends. Distributed computing and distributed human problem solving will become one and the same as man and machine become more connected. Every bit of intelligence (human or artificial) will be needed to solve humanity’s grand challenges and take advantage of our growing technologies. So jump in any time, guys. Edit a wiki, join a distributed computation project, start a tech blog…wait. Um, ignore that last one. We’ve got it covered. Promise.

[image credits: JMKnapp via Flickr]

[sources: Indiana University, CCI at MIT]

Discussion — 60 Responses

  • Skipper March 22, 2010 on 2:02 am

    Collective intelligence is already having enormous effect for a variety of problems. TED’s “The Rise of Collaboration” theme video series showcases a lot of great examples, from optometry to disaster relief: http://www.ted.com/themes/the_rise_of_collaboration.html

  • David Everling March 21, 2010 on 10:02 pm

    Collective intelligence is already having enormous effect for a variety of problems. TED’s “The Rise of Collaboration” theme video series showcases a lot of great examples, from optometry to disaster relief: http://www.ted.com/themes/the_rise_of_collaboration.html

  • gregorylent March 22, 2010 on 10:38 pm

    yogis would have no problem agreeing with this, they have had this concept for centuries …

    however, heh, the science types will be the last ones interested in the yogi’s pov ..

  • gregorylent March 22, 2010 on 6:38 pm

    yogis would have no problem agreeing with this, they have had this concept for centuries …

    however, heh, the science types will be the last ones interested in the yogi’s pov ..

  • dollop March 23, 2010 on 6:13 pm

    CI or Collective Intelligence will not really matter unless you have the IQ to understand the material you find on the web.

  • dollop March 23, 2010 on 2:13 pm

    CI or Collective Intelligence will not really matter unless you have the IQ to understand the material you find on the web.

  • vx7 response March 23, 2010 on 11:22 pm

    CI may be the wave of the future, but the far future… Until humankind has solved the problems of survival for all, it will always come down to the individual. It is this “value” that society places on individuals is what allows the individual to survive (make money so they can feed, cloth themselves and keep warm and propagate the human race- with hopefully ever-more intelligent offspring). If we are all reduced to mediocrity, who makes the decision as to who lives and who dies? If we ever get to this point, the human race will have reached it’s maximum potential and will devolve from that point on. This concept is just another crock from liberals attempting to justify their existence.

  • vx7 response March 23, 2010 on 7:22 pm

    CI may be the wave of the future, but the far future… Until humankind has solved the problems of survival for all, it will always come down to the individual. It is this “value” that society places on individuals is what allows the individual to survive (make money so they can feed, cloth themselves and keep warm and propagate the human race- with hopefully ever-more intelligent offspring). If we are all reduced to mediocrity, who makes the decision as to who lives and who dies? If we ever get to this point, the human race will have reached it’s maximum potential and will devolve from that point on. This concept is just another crock from liberals attempting to justify their existence.

  • Rande March 24, 2010 on 12:48 am

    What good is a “collective IQ” from all the people, when the people are morally and ethically corrupt?

    What separates the First World from the 3rd World? The people … their religion, culture, ideology, IQ and behavior. Bring the 3rd world to your country, and I don’t care how much “collective IQ” is used, it will be to no avail.

    Just look at the leaders of our US government, both Democrats and Republicans. What collective ability has been used for the USA? EVERY, and I mean EVERY, Decision they have made the past 10-15 years has been detrimental to the USA; whether it be Free Trade, NAFTA, Immigration, No child left behind, or outsourcing.

    If I were to write a book on the best way to destroy a country, our leaders have not only written the book, they have implemented it !

    There is only one thing that can save us now, and some of you know, while others will scoff. Since the USA and Europe have cast off their Christian foundation, they are descending into the darkness of damnation.

    ~Rande

  • Rande March 23, 2010 on 8:48 pm

    What good is a “collective IQ” from all the people, when the people are morally and ethically corrupt?

    What separates the First World from the 3rd World? The people … their religion, culture, ideology, IQ and behavior. Bring the 3rd world to your country, and I don’t care how much “collective IQ” is used, it will be to no avail.

    Just look at the leaders of our US government, both Democrats and Republicans. What collective ability has been used for the USA? EVERY, and I mean EVERY, Decision they have made the past 10-15 years has been detrimental to the USA; whether it be Free Trade, NAFTA, Immigration, No child left behind, or outsourcing.

    If I were to write a book on the best way to destroy a country, our leaders have not only written the book, they have implemented it !

    There is only one thing that can save us now, and some of you know, while others will scoff. Since the USA and Europe have cast off their Christian foundation, they are descending into the darkness of damnation.

    ~Rande

  • mark March 24, 2010 on 4:40 pm

    I would have to agree you, Rande, but only on your point that intelligence, individual or collective, can be at once morally, politcally, socially, economically, culturally and historically placeable. Why, where, how and who part takes in these collectives and what does that tells us about the relations of power embedded in the collectivizing of intelligence? Is this sort of intelligence exclusive to science and technology?

    I just think this whole way of thinking needs soime politicizing

  • mark March 24, 2010 on 12:40 pm

    I would have to agree you, Rande, but only on your point that intelligence, individual or collective, can be at once morally, politcally, socially, economically, culturally and historically placeable. Why, where, how and who part takes in these collectives and what does that tells us about the relations of power embedded in the collectivizing of intelligence? Is this sort of intelligence exclusive to science and technology?

    I just think this whole way of thinking needs soime politicizing

  • krunkster March 26, 2010 on 6:18 pm

    “CCI at MIT is working to understand and guide collective intelligence.”
    I like the idea of guiding a CI, especially if they aren’t aware that they are being harnessed.

  • krunkster March 26, 2010 on 6:18 pm

    “CCI at MIT is working to understand and guide collective intelligence.”
    I like the idea of guiding a CI, especially if they aren’t aware that they are being harnessed.

  • krunkster March 26, 2010 on 2:18 pm

    “CCI at MIT is working to understand and guide collective intelligence.”
    I like the idea of guiding a CI, especially if they aren’t aware that they are being harnessed.

  • jerry March 29, 2010 on 7:12 pm

    google search for porn 214 million pages of results- google search for global warming 26 million pages of results.

  • jerry March 29, 2010 on 7:12 pm

    google search for porn 214 million pages of results- google search for global warming 26 million pages of results.

  • jerry March 29, 2010 on 3:12 pm

    google search for porn 214 million pages of results- google search for global warming 26 million pages of results.

  • Spencer March 30, 2010 on 8:15 pm

    Have you ever looked at the worldwide trending topics on twitter? Doesn’t give you too much confidence about CI.

  • Spencer March 30, 2010 on 8:15 pm

    Have you ever looked at the worldwide trending topics on twitter? Doesn’t give you too much confidence about CI.

  • Spencer March 30, 2010 on 4:15 pm

    Have you ever looked at the worldwide trending topics on twitter? Doesn’t give you too much confidence about CI.

  • viejo322 March 31, 2010 on 5:43 pm

    Is this like saying the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Perhaps to an extent but the level of expertise of the parts has to have some effect. Collectivism as an ideology is different than a methadology of solving problems. What happens when the individual has a dissenting point of view does that just get mashed into the sum of the parts. I don’t think you could argue against the importance of the individual contribution to the progression of scientific knowledge. One only has to look at the paucity of progress in ideological systems where the individual is not valued. I think you are talking about two different things collaboration is a more precise term than collectivism as it gives recognition to the individual as the basic unit in the collective. Something that the writer seems to gloss over. IQ has never been the sole predictor of behavior or achievement. Lots of mad geniuses in history who gained a collective following and achieved evil outcomes.
    deemphasize.

  • viejo322 March 31, 2010 on 5:43 pm

    Is this like saying the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Perhaps to an extent but the level of expertise of the parts has to have some effect. Collectivism as an ideology is different than a methadology of solving problems. What happens when the individual has a dissenting point of view does that just get mashed into the sum of the parts. I don’t think you could argue against the importance of the individual contribution to the progression of scientific knowledge. One only has to look at the paucity of progress in ideological systems where the individual is not valued. I think you are talking about two different things collaboration is a more precise term than collectivism as it gives recognition to the individual as the basic unit in the collective. Something that the writer seems to gloss over. IQ has never been the sole predictor of behavior or achievement. Lots of mad geniuses in history who gained a collective following and achieved evil outcomes.
    deemphasize.

  • viejo322 March 31, 2010 on 1:43 pm

    Is this like saying the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Perhaps to an extent but the level of expertise of the parts has to have some effect. Collectivism as an ideology is different than a methadology of solving problems. What happens when the individual has a dissenting point of view does that just get mashed into the sum of the parts. I don’t think you could argue against the importance of the individual contribution to the progression of scientific knowledge. One only has to look at the paucity of progress in ideological systems where the individual is not valued. I think you are talking about two different things collaboration is a more precise term than collectivism as it gives recognition to the individual as the basic unit in the collective. Something that the writer seems to gloss over. IQ has never been the sole predictor of behavior or achievement. Lots of mad geniuses in history who gained a collective following and achieved evil outcomes.
    deemphasize.

  • Seerak April 1, 2010 on 10:05 pm

    CCI tries to answer a guiding question: how can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any individual, group, or computer has ever done before?

    A more interesting question: when the opposite has been true for all of human history, why do people keep asking that question?

    “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” — Kay, MiB

  • Seerak April 1, 2010 on 10:05 pm

    CCI tries to answer a guiding question: how can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any individual, group, or computer has ever done before?

    A more interesting question: when the opposite has been true for all of human history, why do people keep asking that question?

    “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” — Kay, MiB

  • Seerak April 1, 2010 on 6:05 pm

    CCI tries to answer a guiding question: how can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any individual, group, or computer has ever done before?

    A more interesting question: when the opposite has been true for all of human history, why do people keep asking that question?

    “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” — Kay, MiB

  • Sethusoid April 2, 2010 on 9:13 pm

    An IQ number is not a measure of how “smart” one is. It is exactly what its name implies, a measure of “intelligence”. If you people don’t know the difference between smartness and intelligence, then you’re all even dumber than I thought.

  • Sethusoid April 2, 2010 on 5:13 pm

    An IQ number is not a measure of how “smart” one is. It is exactly what its name implies, a measure of “intelligence”. If you people don’t know the difference between smartness and intelligence, then you’re all even dumber than I thought.

  • magrathea April 5, 2010 on 2:58 pm

    collective inteligence… hmm…
    resistance is futile
    we’ll be assimilated :-)

  • magrathea April 5, 2010 on 10:58 am

    collective inteligence… hmm…
    resistance is futile
    we’ll be assimilated :-)

  • NC April 6, 2010 on 4:54 pm

    Well you could have 3000000 dogs together looking at computers and they still wouldn’t figure out how to use them. So Individual Intelligence does matter, and Collective Intelligence depends on it.

  • NC April 6, 2010 on 12:54 pm

    Well you could have 3000000 dogs together looking at computers and they still wouldn’t figure out how to use them. So Individual Intelligence does matter, and Collective Intelligence depends on it.

  • Bast Hotep April 7, 2010 on 1:30 am

    I have only two words for you:

    YouTube comments.

    I rest my case.

  • Bast Hotep April 6, 2010 on 9:30 pm

    I have only two words for you:

    YouTube comments.

    I rest my case.

  • surfdaddio April 17, 2010 on 7:40 pm

    CI has been in effect for a long time. One of the first manifestations of CI was the development of human language. The advent of new technology can definitely improve the speed and effectiveness of problem solving including collective problem solving.

    However, just because a problem is collectively solved doesn’t mean that something good has been done since it often can leave in it’s wake newer and more difficult challenges. The splitting of the atom and the Manhattan project are examples of a collective approach to a problem. And this left in it’s wake a whole host of new problems to deal with, many of which are much more complicated and dangerous than the original point of focus.

  • surfdaddio April 17, 2010 on 3:40 pm

    CI has been in effect for a long time. One of the first manifestations of CI was the development of human language. The advent of new technology can definitely improve the speed and effectiveness of problem solving including collective problem solving.

    However, just because a problem is collectively solved doesn’t mean that something good has been done since it often can leave in it’s wake newer and more difficult challenges. The splitting of the atom and the Manhattan project are examples of a collective approach to a problem. And this left in it’s wake a whole host of new problems to deal with, many of which are much more complicated and dangerous than the original point of focus.

  • Coffee Table Plans September 19, 2010 on 9:23 pm

    Thanks for the info

  • Kevin MacNeel September 22, 2011 on 12:07 pm

    Collective human intelligence is awesome, and it is even more awesome with the use of machines. I want an Android application that lets me chose the questions from the answers of Watson or a stackoverflow(voting website) system or perhaps even better yet a system that combines both to help me answer questions.

    • rafaelmoret Kevin MacNeel October 11, 2011 on 10:47 am

      Hi Kevin, you should have a look at Ledface (www.ledcrowd.com/blog/about-us).
      I think it is exactly what you are looking for!
      Ledface is harnessing the collective intelligence to help people solve their day-to-day problems.