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



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." (

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." (


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." (

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

Key Books to Read

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