Collective Intelligence

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Collective Intelligence = "the capacity of a human community to evolve toward higher order complexity thought, problem-solving and integration through collaboration and innovation" (George Por)

URL = Wikipedia: Collective intelligence


Towards the creation of a ommicentric Ideosphere:

  • Kosmic Alignment. A Principle of Global Unity. By Yasuhiko Genku Kimura. Reprinted with permission from Kosmos Journal, Spring/Summer 2005.


"We human beings are at our best not when we are engaged in abstract solitary reflection or on our individual transformation for its own sake but when we are engaged together in the act of transforming the world. The act of idea-generation through authentic thinking and the sustained engagement in the conversation of humankind, if conducted in the context of pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness, will lead to powerful moral action that will engender a New World. To engage in such moral action and to become a co-creator of a New World is to become a world-weaver in the act of weaving the world and a history-maker in the act of making history."


Tom Attlee of the Co-Intelligence Institute has a restricted definition of collective intelligence, which he considers to be 'only one-fifth of co-intelligence', see

George Por summarizes:

"There are many definitions of collective intelligence available online. Below are the one's I found so far. Some of them are edited to make them readable as definitions. Most define what I would consider only one portion of the full range of collective intelligence, being too narrow either in their sense of the "collective" that is intelligent, or in the functions they equate with intelligence, or in their sense of where collective intelligence comes from. But they are all very articulate about what CI is from their perspective.

I'll start with definitions proposed by the prolific Pierre Levy":

Pierre Levy

The capacity of human communities to co-operate intellectually in creation, innovation and invention. As our society becomes more and more knowledge-dependent, this collective ability becomes of fundamental importance. It is therefore vital to understand, among other things, how collective intelligence processes can be expanded by digital networks. It is one of the keys to success for modern societies.Pierre Levy (

The cognitive powers of a group -- e.g., perception, action planning and coordination, reasoning, prediction, memory, imagination and hypothesis generation, inquisitiveness, problem solving and, above all, learning capacity. Collective cognitive powers are closely related to the group's culture. -- Pierre Levy (the cognitive powers list from this source has been expanded with items from Levy's definitions in and

A fully distributed intelligence that is continuously enhanced and synergised in real-time. -- Pierre Levy

Collective learning and creative process [realized] through exchanges of knowledge and intellectual creativity. -- Pierre Levy

A form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills... No one knows everything, everyone knows something. -- Pierre Levy

Human communities, organizations and cultures exhibiting "mind-like" properties, such as learning, perceiving, acting, thinking, problem-solving, and so on. This embraces phenomena variously known as] distributed cognition, distributed knowledge systems, global brain, super-brain, global mind, group mind, ecology of mind, hive mind, learning organization, connected intelligence, networked intelligence, augmented intelligence, hyper-cortex, symbiotic man, etc... Emotions, bodies, medias, sign systems, social relations, technologies, biological environment and physical supports also play roles in collective intelligence processes. -- Pierre Levy

Jean-Francois Noubel

The capability for a group to organize itself in order to decide upon its own future and control the means to attain it in complex contexts. -- Jean-Francois Noubel

The oldest human social organization where individuals decide to mutualize their knowledge, know-how and experience in order to generate a higher individual and collective benefit than if they remained alone. Collective intelligence is the foundation of positive-sum economies where the whole is more than the sum of its parties. -- Jean-Francois Noubel

George Por

An extensive attempt to define the various elements of CI can be read here at

His short version:

The capacity of communities to evolve towards higher order integration and performance through collaboration and innovation. -- George Por


The capability of a collective/social system to hold questions and language too complex for any individual intelligence to hold, and to work out strategies, visions, goals, and images of a desired future, etc. -- edited from Finn Voldtofte's notes from a World Cafe

A specific property of a social structure, initialized when individuals organize, acquiring the ability to solve more complex problems than individuals can. This property amplifies if the social structure improves its synergy. -- Tadeusz Szuba

An unconscious, random, parallel and distributed computational process run by a social structure [such that the] social structure seems to be working well for a wide spectrum of beings (from bacterial colonies up to human social structures). -- Tadeusz (Ted) Szuba

People of different backgrounds or talents working together so as to help optimize the meshing of those talents in organizations -- Doug Engelbart

Collective problem-solving ability. -- Francis Heylighen

The capacity of families, groups, organizations, communities and entire societies to act intelligently as whole, living systems. -- Tom Atlee

That which overcomes "groupthink" and individual cognitive bias in order to allow a relatively large number of people to cooperate in one process - leading to reliable action. -- Anonymous

Empowerment through the development and pooling of intelligence to attain common goals or resolve common problems. -- Phillip Brown and Hugh Lauder

Taxonomy of Collective Intelligence


Proposed by George Por at

"a. Dialogic CI – A diverse group of participants suspend their old mental models and engage in dialogue that values the emergent whole higher than its parts. Variations of this approach include Bohmian dialogue, "generative conversation" (Otto Scharmer)

b. Co-evolutionary CI – This form of CI builds on the power of such evolutionary mechanisms generating intelligence over time as trial and error, differentiation and integration, competition and collaboration, etc. Its examples include: ecosystems, sciences, and cultures.

c. Flow-based CI – A group of people become so absorbed in a shared activity that they experience being completely at one with it and one another. Ensembles, high-performance sport teams, astronauts, and others in that state of communion, report on both an enhanced state of autonomy, and collective intelligence.

d. Statistical CI - Individuals thinking and acting separately in large crowds can reach successful conclusion about their collective cognitive, coordination or predictive challenges. Examples include the "intelligence" of markets and cases popularized in the "Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki.

e. Human-machine CI – This form of CI leverages the synergy of the human mind and its electronic extensions, drawing on the best capacities of both. The "collective" includes symbiotic networks of humans and computers working together and developing compound capabilities. It can also support all other forms of CI." (


Henry Jenkins:

"We can argue that there are a range of different models of collective intelligence shaping the digital realm at the present time. We might distinguish broadly between three different models:

1) An aggregative model which assumes that we can collect data based on the autonomous and anonymous decisions of “the crowd” and use it to gain insights into their collective behavior. This is the model which shapes Digg and to some degree, YouTube.

2) a curatorial model where grassroots intermediaries seek to represent their various constituencies and bring together information that they think is valuable. This is the model which shapes the blogosphere.

3) a deliberative model where many different voices come together, define problems, vet information, and find solutions which would be impossible for any individual to achieve. This is the model shaping Wikipedia or even more powerfully alternate universe games. Of the three, the deliberative model offers the most democratic potentials, especially when it is tempered by ethical and political commitments to diversity. This is the model which Pierre Levy describes in his book, Collective Intelligence. Levy’s account stresses the affirmative value placed on diversity in such a culture. The more diverse the community, the broader range of possible information and insights can inform the deliberative process." (

Related and contrasting concepts

Difference between Wisdom of Crowds and Collective Intelligence

Sam Rose explains the issue, inspired by Henry Jenkins, at

"According to Henry Jenkins, the “wisdom of crowds” is applicable towards aggregating dispersed knowledge about quantifiable, objective data, while “collective intelligence” is intelligence that derives from collective behavior and stigmergic, and/or consensus decision making.

The need for independence among “crowd” members contrasts with the requirement for connection and collaboration to see collective intelligence work.

The Wisdom of Crowds generally breaks down when information sharing/group think starts to skew and bias people towards errors. Collective Intelligence overcomes this by looking at different ways that groups can systematically enhance and improve collaboration and cooperation." (

Difference between Swarming and Collective Intelligence

George Por at

Swarming is not CI because it lacks awareness and intentionality.

"Self-awareness is definirtely a requirement and antecedent of CI. That's exactly why I doubt that humans have a lot to learn from the frequently cited "CI" of bee hives, ant colonies, schools of fish, flock of birds, etc. Their coordinative mechanisms are great innovations of natural evolution that we need to study and understand but the quality of CI possible in human communities is quite different from, for instance, the "CI" of social insects. They have consciousness but unlike us, they are not conscious of having consciousness, therefore their available scenarios limited to the ones programmed by nature. We can change our future and that makes all the difference.

The negative impact of limited self-awareness is very visible in the Borg, and in real-life, authoritarian communities. Only evolved human beings who have chosen to realize their highest potential--being free from the limitations imposed by ego--will be capable to reach new peaks of collective intelligence demonstrated by the higher and sustained levels of shared-attention, harmony, joy, integration and collective performance. Personal evolution and collective intelligence are co-arising." (

Difference with User-Generated Content

Yihong Ding:

"Collective intelligence is the most well-known engagement of collectivism on World Wide Web. In particular, Web 2.0 advocates have declared "harnessing collective intelligence" to be the touchstone of the Web 2.0 revolution. By definition, collective intelligence is a form of intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals. If someone feels a little bit puzzled of this definition, here is an alternative explanation that is imprecise but much easier to be understood. Informally, collective intelligence on the Web is the collections of user generated "intelligence".

A keen reader may immediately find an interesting comparison: are there any differences between user generated "intelligence" and user generated "content" (or user generated "data")? On Web 2.0, we have almost mentioned users generation content (UGC) as many times as collective intelligence. In many people's mind, UGC almost equals to the collective intelligence. But the actual meanings between "intelligence" and "content" or "data" are very much different. The intent of "intelligence" is much richer than "content/data". Tim O'Reilly also had briefly mentioned this distinction in one of his earlier post about harnessing collective intelligence.

Content/data is a type of intelligence but at the low end. Jean Piaget, a Swiss philosopher and pioneer of the constructivist epistemology, had a compact description about intelligence: "Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do." Content/data provides shallow and unrefined information for people to use. Content/data is often too crude to be efficiently used. Keeping the user generation intelligence at the level of content/data is not enough. This is a problem.

I foresee that the degree of complexity (as well as the degree of efficient usage) of the collective intelligence on the Web is going to evolve with the Web. For example, by tagging content with formal labels that are defined by ontologies, the user generated content/data would evolve to be the user generated knowledge. This is exactly what the vision of Semantic Web wants to bring to us. Moreover, by augmenting formally labeled content with external logic routines, the user generated knowledge would evolve to be the user generated wisdom. By encoding the mechanism of proactiveness into machine computation, the user generated wisdom might evolve to be the user generated creativity. By engaging user generated content/data, knowledge, wisdom, creativity together, we might eventually get the user generated personality, through which the human evolution reaches a new stage of being artificially immortal. Is this path a long way? Yes, there is a long way to go. Is this path an impossible dream? No, it is not. The practice of collective intelligence is converting our society into a virtual world simultaneously from the level of individuals and the level of collective groups." (


Stewart and Cohen:

"The cultural counterpart of intelligence is an external feature, which we shall call extelligence.... Extelligence is all of the "cultural capital" that is available to us in the form of tribal legends, folklore, nursery tales, books, videotapes, CD-ROMs, and so on. However, extelligence is not just a matter of "keeping a record". The intelligence of each individual allows them not only to access to cumulative body of extelligence, but to add to or change it." (

From CI to Collective Wisdom

Tom Atlee:

'I am coming to suspect that it is the fringes that make the difference between collective intelligence and collective wisdom.

Collective intelligence solves problems or resolves conflicts of, by and for a group, an organization, a community or a whole society. It solve those problems and conflicts for the here and now, for people who are interested, aware, and involved.

Collective wisdom, on the other hand, has a bigger challenge. It needs to expand out from the particular problem or conflict, from the here and now, from those interested, aware and involved. It needs to embrace larger contexts, interests, drivers and possibilities. It has to consider the deep needs of people long gone and yet unborn, and to delve into deeper levels of understanding and caring. It ventures into unseen dimensions of life - into background trends, hidden corruptions and connections, psychospiritual influences, scientific microcosms and macrocosms - to realize unexpected consequences, novel resources, and extraordinarily potent answers. Being the Big Picture form of intelligence, wisdom is born out of our capacity to stretch creatively into the unknown and the unacknowledged, into the new angle, the deeper parts of ourselves, the fringe insights and possibilities.

In the borderland where collective intelligence begins to expand into collective wisdom we see radical inclusion of erstwhile opponents in conversations enriched with broad-spectrum perspectives and information. We find Citizen Juries of randomly selected citizens studying briefing materials which summarize the main conflicting approaches to the issue they're considering and then spending a week interviewing diverse partisans and experts and pulling together conclusions and recommendations to share with the public and its representatives.

Such approaches are so much more collectively intelligent than the polarized battles, bought-off politicians, and back room deals that shape so much of public policy today. They are also wiser, although usually hovering on the edge of real wisdom. They don't journey too far in the direction of greater wisdom. That would take more thought, time, and resources. And it can seem just a bit too theoretical and risky for those involved in making things better now, with what we have.

But we need that bigger, longer-term wisdom. Given our circumstances, we can't be satisfied merely with intelligence - even when it is collective. We need to invite and push ourselves and each other beyond smart into big-picture ways of being wiser together. Why? Because that's where our greatest challenges and dangers will transmute into our greatest creative breakthroughs and positive possibilities. And because we are talking the edge of extinction here, for ourselves and so much of the rest of life - an edge that luckily also contains all our prospects for a far, far better world.

Open-ended emergent processes like those mentioned earlier are one approach to calling forth this wisdom, an approach especially suited to facilitating self-organization and transformation in organization and communities. Initiatives to generate transformational public policy, however, could benefit from a different approach - specifically, expanding the techniques of deliberative democracy into the fringes.

For example, the practice of "framing an issue for deliberation" involves breaking the mainstream arguments about an issue into 3-5 diverse approaches, summarizing them, and presenting them as educational stimulants to citizen deliberators. Occasionally, the deliberators are charged with choosing one approach over the others. More often, they are invited to pull together an approach that seeks to resolve some of the difficult trade-offs that these competing approaches demand, often by mixing and matching aspects of them all. Sometimes deliberators are even challenged and empowered (perhaps with Dynamic Facilitation's "choice-creating" process) to come up with something quite different from all the mainstream approaches, something that addresses the issue at a deeper, broader, or more imaginative level.

Alternatively (or additionally) citizen deliberators could be explicitly invited into the fringes. The Web is filled with non-mainstream information and solutions for virtually every issue we face. What if the 24 citizen deliberators in a Citizens Jury (for example) were broken up into 6 teams of 4 deliberators and given an afternoon to search the Web for the most useful existing information and/or possibilities they can find, relevant to the issue they're working on. Each team would work independently from the others, in parallel, with any Web-searching assistance they needed. They would be challenged to find information and options that are even better than what the other teams find. At the end all the teams would come together to share and discuss what they found. It would be an immersion in the messy world of the Web's juicy fringes, with no pre-ordained instructions or conclusions. Informed by their earlier studies and interviews, the 24 deliberators could tap that rich brew for new ways of thinking about and solving - or even transcending - the issue before them. It would be interesting to then bring in new experts who know about the new options the deliberators are considering, and to engage those new experts with the previous, more mainstream experts, to delve deeper into understanding what's going on and what's possible.*

Public wisdom involves the public and decision-makers (whomever they may be) taking into account what needs to be taken into account for broad, long-term benefit. We need an active inquiry to formulate, test, use and institutionalize many diverse approaches to generating such wisdom. The very diversity of approaches would be a resource for wisdom. As a reader of this essay, you may have your own ideas. That's great! Post them as comments on this blog. This essay is intended merely as an initial stimulant to raise interest and energy for the vital inquiry about how we can co-create our participatory wisdom."

More Information

  1. The Website on Co-Intelligence, by Tom Attlee at
  2. Defining Collective Intelligence, by George Por, at

See the related entry on Co-intelligence and the Wisdom of Crowds

Related concepts:

  1. Collective Behavior
  2. Collective Responsibility
  3. Collective Identity
  4. Collective Consciousness
  5. Collective Effervescence

Recommended by Tiago Peixoto:

Landemore, Hélène E., Democratic Reason: The Mechanisms of Collective Intelligence in Politics (April 1, 2011). COLLECTIVE WISDOM: PRINCIPLES AND MECHANISMS, Hélène Landemore and Jon Elster, eds., Cambridge University Press, Spring 2012.

You can find more of Hélène’s work here

Also, if you are interested in high-level talks and discussions about collective intelligence, the videos of conferences below are some of the best things out there:

  1. Collective Intelligence Conference (Video)
  2. College de France – Collective Intelligence (Video)
  3. Epistemic Democracy Conference (Video)

Key Books to Read

  1. Jean-Francois Noubel. Collective Intelligence. [2] - Primer from 2004
  2. Pierre Levy, Aux Origines de L'Intelligence Collective. [3] - Excerpt from a book, on historical precedents for the concept. Extensive english summary by Martien van Steenbergen.