How thought happens on a large scale.
Why do some organizations seem so much smarter than others? Can people think together successfully in groups? How can technology help? In this brilliant, somewhat heady, but generally accessible book, Mulgan (The Locust and the Bee: Predators and Creators in Capitalism’s Future, 2015, etc.), chief executive of Nesta, Britain’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, shows how the answers can be found in the emerging field of collective intelligence, which links people and machines to foster “dramatic jumps” in group intelligence. The smarter outcome does not happen automatically; it must be carefully orchestrated. The tools for CI are expensive, found mainly in the military and finance and rarely in the health and environmental sectors. Were they widely available, writes the author, they could give us a “truly global intelligence” that “could solve global problems—from pandemics to climate threats, violence to poverty.” Drawing on such disciplines as social psychology, computer science, and economics, as well as his experiences as a co-founder of the think tank Demos, Mulgan outlines the elements of CI, which has informed collaborations from the Manhattan project and NASA’s moon landings to Google Maps and Wikipedia. His recounting of a well-known past attempt to organize collaborative thought on a large scale—the Oxford English Dictionary, which engaged a huge army of volunteers working according to strict rules—illustrates nicely how the orchestration and properties of a group “far exceed the capabilities of any one part.” The author examines the many elements of CI, making clear how computers have enhanced our capabilities, from observation to memory, and shows how they work in real-life settings like the economy, universities, and meetings of all kinds. “Environments that are stimulating, demanding, and engaging will tend to enhance intelligence,” he writes.
An essential primer on an important new discipline.