A man can be weak but a group of men can be strong. A few geniuses can do something big but a collective intelligence can do bigger. Back in the days where connectivity was limited, a man or a genius played a great role. Today where connectivity is hyper, groups of collective intelligence generate greater creativeness and ideas. The term collective intelligence might have been used for about 10 years but its conception actually has been used for a long time; and it has been a driving force of our knowledge and of our life for better.
770 B.C. in China, Zhou dynasty became weak and Feudalism started to collapse. The neighboring states hurried to take the chance to turn the situation advantageous to them but the age turned out to be what is called today as ‘the Warring States period’. Commercials and industries were booming and men of great mind were born and culture was enriched during this period until before Qin dynasty brought unification in 221 B.C. The regional monarchs provided unsparing support for these great thinkers which was resulted what is called today as Hundred Schools of Thought.
By the late Warring States period, a successful merchant called Lu Buwei from then Qin state integrated Hundred Schools of Thought into Lushi Chunqui. Lu was a wealthy merchant of Cao Wei and invested his whole wealth in enthroning King Zhuangxiang of Qin and became the venerable of the dynasty. When Zhuangxiang died, he put the king’s still young son Qin Shi Huang on the throne and started regency. Lu supported merchants and politicians and in particular about 3,000 scholars to pile Lushi Chungui.
The 3,000 scholars gathered and integrated all thoughts in the Warring States period into this one single encyclopedia so that it can be used as reference for politics and laws. The encyclopedia is divided into three parts in total 26 books: Sipiki (12 books), Palram (8 books) and Yookron (6 books) which all contain about 200,000 words. Sipiki recorded philosophies and political opinions of the time and various theories of nature and life: circulation of the 4 seasons, change of living things, and war and peace, rise and fall/good and ill luck of people. Palram, on the other hand, recorded everything about human affairs while Yookron recorded about ruling the nation. In a word, Lushi Chunqui contains almost everything about universe, nature, human affairs, administration, yin and yang, good and ill luck and politics.
Securing diversity and encouraging proactive participation
It is not much to say that Lushi Chunqui is ‘THE’ greatest feat of Lu Buwei who himself was very proud of. He put Lushi Chunqui on the gate of Xianyang, the then capital city of the time and promised that whoever change even a single word in Lushi Chunqui would be rewarded a thousand pieces of gold. This anecdote is now told as ‘Priceless Sentence’ or ‘the one word has the value of a thousand pieces of gold’.
Lushi Chunqui can be interpreted today as an ‘open collaboration’ in which 3,000 scholars made most of their knowledge to make one single masterpiece encyclopedia through writing, review and revision in order to bring ‘one completeness’. In a way, it can compare to Preliminary Online Open Review introduced by the EBS (Educational Broadcasting System in South Korea) in 2011. The EBS rewarded 1,000 won worth gift voucher per typing error and 50,000 won worth per error. (1,000 won is USD 0.84 as of May 19, 2019). In other words, it is a good example of ‘collective intelligence’.
Both Lushi Chunqui and Preliminary Online Open Review used two characteristics of collective intelligence: securing diversity and encouraging proactive participation. Considering the time, Lushi Chunqui especially is outstanding on the fact that it secured diversity by involving 3,000 scholars and it was open to the public to draw participation of commoners.
Many cases of the internet-based collective intelligence happening today are within this frame work that goes back thousands years ago. The success or failure of this hyperconnectivity-based collective intelligence depends on how much proactive the members of the project is. In this respect, Lu Buwei seemed to be well aware of the concept of what is called today as ‘collective intelligence’ 2,200 years ago as he put up a reward ‘a thousand pieces of gold per word’. The reward might rather represent his confidence than the real reward of the thousand pieces of gold but he certainly succeeded drawing public participation as a result.
The success or failure of this hyperconnectivity-based collective intelligence depends on how much proactive the members of the project is.
From open source to crowd sourcing
The reason this 2,200 years old concept is re-appearing again recently lies at the advantage of hyperconnective society. The French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Levy predicted ‘collective intelligence conception’, which forms on a cyber space by exchanging and sharing each other’s knowledge, in his 1994 book L'intelligence collective: Pour une anthropologie du cyberspace (Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace).
The presence of collective intelligence is making itself in conceptions of open source and crowd sourcing as well as participatory Wikipedia and the open source code-based Linux. So called this ‘open source movement’ is now taking over the areas of hardware over software as well as plant seeds and variety of applicable sectors.
The software engineer and the pioneer of the Open Source Software Movement Eric Raymond explained the development process of open source in his 1997 book <The Cathedral and the Bazaar>: he explained that cathedral is a method of developers’ code source for commercial software development while market is an open method for everybody to see the source codes. He said that ‘open source’ could encourage people of various thoughts to look into the source codes and find solutions for possible bugs in speed during the process of developing software. Good examples of this are Linux, Firefox and Chrominum as web browser software, and Arduino as hardware, and Wikipedia as online encyclopedia.
This open source movement is now expanding as far as to plant seeds which are being opened to the public in the form of ‘open source license’. For example, University of Wisconsin-Madison U.S. opened 29 kinds of plant seeds including quinoa, kale and broccoli according to OSSI (Open Source Seed Initiative) for people to grow their plants with these seeds and make new seeds; but on condition that the improved seeds must also be open to the public according to OSSI.
Important value and creativity of collective intelligence
Collective intelligence receives credits for its two values: creativity and completeness. It lays its values on people with different background, characters and thoughts to exchange and share their knowledge and experience in order to generate creative ideas. Brainstorming, in this respect, functions as the smallest collective intelligence unit while the term such as ‘innocentive’, in which people share ideas online and bring up creative solutions, is appearing on the respective platforms.
Innocentive brought up solutions to the crude oil leakage incident of Alaska in 1989. The U.S. government put up a reward and gathered ideas of the public to solve the leakage issue. Thousands of ideas were poured in within 2 weeks and an engineer of a cement company brought up the best idea in 3 months.
The use of collective intelligence, however, was not only the case of a government but also of many companies seeking more efficient and effective methods. The Pixar’s Brain Trust and the Facebook’s Hackathon are two good examples. Brain Trust gathers ideas of employees when a story of a work faces a problem through which Pixar actually has made many successful works.
Hackathon, on the other hand, is one of the most important meeting methods of Facebook in which developers and designers gather together to develop prototypes for several days; the Facebook’s ‘Like’ button is a good example of the result of this meeting. Recognizing its effect, Facebook is applying Hackathon to all departments of the company such as human resource, marketing and accounting. It is notable that Facebook also invites outside specialists to Hackathon to gather various viewpoints and ideas.
Essential ingredients of collective intelligence
Why then companies seem to have difficulty in using the most of this collective intelligence? The foremost reason is because they are worried about ‘opening’ their source. To collect various ideas, one must open the source they want to collect ideas for. The problem is that companies have this tendency to devise methods to keep or hide rather than open. So they need to change their way of thinking what to open and how to open in order to collect efficient, effective or brilliant ideas and solutions from majority.
GE opened its patents on Quirky community in order to develop new products and has drawn a number of successful products recently through this open project. NIKE also opened of its 400 patented substances and techniques related to eco-friendly technologies in 2010 for public use through its ‘GreenXchange’. The new values created through GreenXchange must also be open so that the project grows itself.
What they have gained by opening their sources to the public was a variety of ideas of people. Structurally, it has turned the ‘keeping’ and ‘hiding’ practices to ‘opening’ and ‘win-win’. Socially, it has created participatory culture. It is really hard to get flowers of collective intelligence from the traditional hierarchical system. Collective intelligence requires autonomy, spontaneity and open ideas. What is needed for these requirements is ‘cooperative leadership’ who is open and pays attention to even what seems to be a ridiculous idea of a participant.
The leader must note that collective intelligence itself cannot draw a fruit but through systematic analysis, organization and management. For example, people can upload new information or add information on Wikipedia but the manager must decide whether it should be published on the site or not. Likewise, developers add or improve functions on Linux but the decision must be made by Linus Benedict Torvalds, the principal development of the Linux Kernel. In other words, collective intelligence is complete by public participation and leader’s wise decision to be a case of success.
The last but not least thing to take a note is that collective intelligence is not a cure for all. One must think whether collective intelligence is needed in the case. Basically, collective intelligence is handy at the initial stage of developing new products or technologies. Importantly, classified contents or things that require higher level of skills better not be open. Necessity is the mother of invention. So think whether it is necessary first before launching an opening.
How ants with small brain capacity can bring food to their house in cooperation? Observing their movement carefully, we can notice that there are ants going out from the house to find food and ants coming back to the house with food. The direction of going out and coming in is systemized. In other words, the cooperation of ants’ gathering food into one place is not a decision of individual ants but a system of an ant group. Likewise, we, human beings, cannot make the most of our cooperation ability without appropriate cooperative systems.