Posted by: bahughes13 | October 2, 2011

Collective Intelligence?

“Collective Intelligence”, as portrayed by Jenkins and researched by Levy, seems to assume a positive construct for the future of information management and research. In many ways, the process of engaging in the action of collective intelligence and the effect on the social structure that results seem to provide the value… not necessarily the “answers” or “information” or “impact” that result from that process. Jenkins writes: “What holds a collective intelligence together is not the possession of knowledge, which is relatively static, but social process of acquiring knowledge, which is dynamic and participatory, continually testing and reaffirming the group’s social ties,” (page 54).
But what happens when the collective intelligence is not positive, reaffirming and constructive? Or, perhaps even more likely — when various sectors within our society disagree on what is true, honest and valuable? Let’s start with Wikipedia. According to its own “about” section, Wikipedia has 82,000 contributors working on 19 million articles. Contributors can use their real names, pseudonyms, or post anonymously. As of March 2011, they had 400 million unique users per month. This Collective has self-structured to include “editors”, “administrators”, “bureaucrats”, and even Wiki’s version of a Supreme Court – “The Arbitration Committee”. While there have been instances in which information is posted improperly, there is a system in place to deal with vandalism and inaccurate posts (once identified).
Contrast that to WikiLeaks, a Collective with a similar start. The original goal of WikiLeaks was to provide the world with insight into the inner workings (and potential corruption) of governments in a user-editable format. That has now changed into (what Wikipedia calls) a more traditional publication format that has locked down users’ ability to edit information. WikiLeaks and its leader, Julian Assange, have released everything from secret documents related to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars to State Department cables to confidential corporate information. When challenged with prosecution, Assange and his defenders threatened on the BBC that WikiLeaks had “information it considered to be a thermo-nuclear device which it would release” if needed.  When major players reacted (PayPal for instance), they faced retribution from Anonymous, a collective of hackers who retaliated on behalf of WikiLeaks by launching attacks on corporate servers.
Is Wikipedia all good? Or WikiLeaks all bad? Of course not. But both are examples of where the future of Collective Intelligence can lead a global society and its ability (or inability) to agree on what is true, honest and valuable.

Discussion Questions:

1.  What impact do new technologies have on the future of Collective Intelligence?
2.  What controls could (or should) a global society put on a Collective Intelligence movements? Are any universal controls even feasible?
3.  Under “uses and gratification theory”, what is it about reality TV (such as Big Brother) that turns normal people (like me!) into addicts?

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