Knowing together?

The title might be hopelessly obvious.

After all, most people would probably agree, that learning and knowing always happens in dynamic interaction with our surroundings.

As humans, we are unambiguously social creatures.

This, of course, has repercussions for our individual learning, which is always heavily influenced by the social situation – hence the notion of situated learning.

All right.

During the last couple of weeks, I have become inspired to look at this from a different perspective, namely that of collective intelligence.

One of the reasons was a rather down-to-earth one, as I was working and by Twitter following the progression of the Game Developers Conference in San Fransisco (take a look at Jesper Juuls wordle-illustrations of tweets sent during GDC).

It suddenly struck me, that I would probably have known only a tiny fragment of this were it not for Twitter and the option to follow all sorts of interesting people (whom I – as opposed to Facebook – don’t necessarily know). This way, Twitter keeps me in the loop demanding only a rather modest effort in return. It also allows me low-barrier access to contact and start a dialogue with these people, potentially resulting in new knowledge, ideas, perspectives.

Other examples of contemporary manifestations of collective intelligence instantly came to mind:

  • SNS’ in general
  • Wikipedia and wikis in general
  • World of Warcraft and other games

Doing a bit of rapid research, MIT turned up with their Center for Collective Intelligence, where they attempt to answer the following 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?

It is not the least bit surprising, that MIT is heavily engaged here. To an ignorant bystander like myself, they sometimes seem omnipresent. Anyway, the center is headed by one Thomas W. Malone, who is so kind as to introduce us to the concept:

In “Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence“, Malone defines collective intelligence as “as groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent” and he subsequently points to a growth in this field:

But over the past decade, the rise of the Internet has enabled the emergence of surprising new forms of collective intelligence.
Henry Jenkins (image from his blog)

Henry Jenkins (also at MIT) is another well-known figure touching upon this field. Jenkins has devoted much time and work to great things like video games, transmedia storytelling and fan culture, and always in a very insightful and balanced way. He has written a number of posts over at his confessions of an Aca-Fan on collective intelligence, which he  defines in a rather prosaic manner:

The kind of knowledge and understanding that emerges from large groups of people is collective intelligence

Drawing on Pierre Levy, he further elaborates on the subject:

As Levy notes, collective intelligence exploits the potential of network culture to allow many different minds operating in many different contexts to work together to solve problems that are more challenging than any of them could master as individuals. In such a world, he tells us, nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any member knows is available to the group as a whole at a moment’s notice.

In a rather nerdy meta-way, the article on Wikipedia about collective intelligence might be the perfect wrap up of this brief scratch on the surface.

I will surely dive deeper into this anytime soon.

Immensely fascinating stuff (not least when coupled with games, as I will do next)

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