A fundamental mechanism of human intelligence is combining data you know about with related data that you don’t know about. This is collective intelligence, and it goes back to the cavemen who sat around the campfire and shared ideas about which spear head worked best on the hunt. With the advent of Internet forums, wikis, affinity groups, blogospheres and so on we are into collective intelligence with a vengeance.
In its most general form, it is determining the consensus of many minds to find a response to a complex challenge. For example, collective intelligence could be used to find solutions for many problems engendered by climate change. In the climate model, there are thousands of variables, incomplete and often incorrect information, and many observers of various parts of this complex system. The total intelligence is what I call the knowosphere and from your point of view combines your mind with the computer clouds and with your wiki as shown in this illustration.
There are of course many examples in history of collective intelligence that has gone wrong, but there are also plenty of examples that could be cited to show the amazing accuracy possible with collective intelligence. A recent example is the design of the innovative Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The problem in this new paradise of knowledge development and potential creativity is that most of the easy challenges have been solved. Now we can work faster, with much larger data bases, but on almost insurmountably large problems. Successful creation of major inventions requires as much as a lifetime’s pursuit of relevant knowledge, full use of the Web, experimenting with possible solutions in a hands-on laboratory, informally tossing ideas around with real people in one place, and a lot of solitary thinking. That’s why there will always be room for the Edisons and the Leonardos.