Tom Atlee: Role of Collective Intelligence in Wise Democracy Needed for Humanity’s Survival

Advanced Cyber/IO, Collective Intelligence
Tom Atlee
Tom Atlee

TITLE: The role of collective intelligence in the wise democracy needed for humanity’s survival

ABSTRACT: This article proposes that the primary function of intelligence is to sustain a dynamic system’s balance between environmental control and adaptability.  A dynamic system needs to remain in tune with its changing environments so that its actions continue to be successful. It does this through impacting its environment and adapting itself to changing conditions.  Both strategies depend on awareness of environmental realities and their relevance to the success and survival of the intelligent system.

Human collective intelligence in technological, economic, and cultural realms has led to the rapid evolution of human civilization’s capacity to impact its environment. Humanity’s problem-solving capabilities have translated problematic circumstances into new forms of impact, a process known as progress.  However, this process has today projected extremes of actual and potential impact into unprecedented scales and realms which challenge not only our ability to respond but the very basis of our responsive capacities – the nature of our intelligence itself.


Approaches to collective intelligence attend variously to computerized systems (and their networks); to the quality of information/knowledge systems and conversational methodologies; to human diversity (including diverse cognitive capacities); to spiritual and intuitive practices and collective consciousness; to the dynamics of collaboration, aggregation*, and stigmergy**; and to social dynamics, especially those related to power.

The most important realm in which collective intelligence is least developed – and, in fact, is actively undermined by ideological and self-interested applications of collective intelligence – is the realm where whole-society decisions are made, namely politics and governance.  The integration and application of multiple approaches to collective intelligence to this realm – and the expansion of collective intelligence to manifest as collective wisdom – are necessary to avoid the collapse of civilization through rapidly emerging crises generated by our lopsided collective intelligence-driven powers in technological, economic and cultural realms.

(These definitions are for  reference, not for the printed abstract.)

*  Aggregation refers to the phenomenon described in the Wisdom Of Crowds where many people operating independently together can generate remarkably accurate predictions regarding current realities (how many beans in the bottle, or where is the sunken submarine) and future events (where will terrorists strike next, or who will win the election).  This phenomenon is manifested formally in what are called “prediction markets”.

** Stigmergy is “a mechanism of indirect coordination between agents or actions. The principle is that the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a next action, by the same or a different agent.” (Wikipedia)  I believe it was first described in the ant world, where chemical traces left by one ant stimulate specific actions in other ants passing over the first ant’s track.  My favorite example in the modern human world is Amazon’s “people who bought this product also bought these products” resource, which is generated by the algorithm-tracked behaviors of site visitors, rather than compiled by any particular human agent.
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Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440
site: http://www.co-intelligence.org  /  blog: http://tomatleeblog.com
Read EMPOWERING PUBLIC WISDOM – http://empoweringpublicwisdom.us
THE TAO OF DEMOCRACY –  http://www.taoofdemocracy.com and
REFLECTIONS ON EVOLUTIONARY ACTIVISM – http://evolutionaryactivism.com
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Phi Beta Iota: The above pertains to an article forthcoming in Spanda, which is publishing a special issue on Collective Intelligence. Robert Steele’s title is “Applied Collective Intelligence: Creating Public Decision-Support for Hybrid Governance of the Commons.” Spanda is gathering the eagles, and their new issue should displace the only other such endeavor, Mark Tovey (ed), COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace (EIN, 2008)

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