Collectively Intelligent Systems

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"Together, the collective and the system could be called a collectively intelligent system. A collectively intelligent system need not be computer-based. For example, the Delphi method, whereby experts iteratively and anonymously contribute insight to work toward a combined collective view, is an asynchronous process that is often conducted through the mail. The system is collectively intelligent in that it avoids groupthink and the other cognitive biases that can occur in face-to-face discussions. The goal is to integrate the diversity of the collective, not to achieve consensus through the suppression of dissent. While not all the systems are computer-based, the complementary strengths and weaknesses of humans and computers give computer-based systems a particular allure. The Internet has spawned numerous well-known applications that facilitate collectively intelligent systems. These systems include document rankings, folksonomies, recommender systems, vote systems, open source software, wikis, and prediction markets. Each system offers a unique way to solve a problem or make a decision collectively. This requires two things of the system: a method to elicit the information from the appropriate individuals and method to aggregate that information so as to make it useful. The elegance of each system is in its ability to evoke the necessary answer. Whether intentional or evolutionary, the design of these systems allows them to exploit the power of the human mind to solve problems."


"A collectively intelligent system can be placed into one of three categories based on the utilization of the collective:

1. The collective is as smart as the smartest individual in the collective

This system type is exemplified by Innocentive. Here a challenge in a corporation is opened up beyond the institution’s walls by posting it to the Innocentive site. Anyone can access the site and choose to work on the problem. The corporation compensates the one who most satisfactorily solves the problem. Here, the purpose of the collective is to provide the diversity out of which the smartest person for the particular problem can self-select. In other words, the collective is needed if the expert has not been identified, or changes from problem to problem.

2. The collective is as smart as the sum of the individuals in the collective

The Iowa Electronic Markets are a good example of this phenomenon. In these prediction markets, every participant alters the decision of the whole through the buying and selling of stocks. The price at which the stocks are traded can be interpreted as the likelihood (a probability) the collective attributes to the event occurring. Like traditional markets, the “invisible hand” governs prediction markets. This metaphor refers essentially a feedback mechanism that urges the contribution of the best information simultaneous to its aggregation. The result is potentially astounding prescience.

3. The collective is smarter than sum of the individuals in the collective

This elusive category refers to decisions that transcend the combined intelligence of the collective to produce synergistic intelligence. Here the combined contributions of the collective provide a product that is more valuable than the contributions themselves. It is this use of collectively intelligent systems that represents the greatest boon to mankind."

More Information

Article: Collectively intelligent systems. Jennifer H. Watkins [1]