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At the Roots of Collective Intelligence

A one-day conference on Collective Intelligence and the Challenges of Social Cognition


  1. On the 15th October 2015 Nesta and The Human Mind Project brought together experts from the social and cognitive sciences, public policy and information analysis, to discuss what makes groups smart, and how collaborative platforms can generate results that individual agents cannot achieve on their own.
  2. Stefana Broadbent opened the day, setting out some of Nesta's Collective Intelligence team's work in the field, including her paper on how collective intelligence emerges, and our work on case studies of collective intelligence in the wild.
  3. Case studies: New Forms of Collective Deliberation

  4. The first panel grounded the day's wide-ranging debate in case studies of recent and ongoing events in the political world. Paolo Gerbaudo and Arnau Monterde presented case studies of new social and political movements that were using social and digital technologies to enhance participation, representation, and decision making in politics.
  5. Paolo Gerbaudo presented his work exploring how new digital parties such as the 5 Star Movement in Italy and the Partido X in Spain use both dedicated tools designed for participatory government, such as Democracy OS and Loomio, and generic social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter. He discussed the repurposing of commercial platforms for radical political purposes, and the compromises they made in negotiating different tools
  6. A key point, which emerged repeatedly throughout the day's talks and discussion, was the challenge of balancing efficiency and legitimacy: as decisions are opened to more stakeholders in more detail they can become slower, more cumbersome, and so be overtaken by more exclusionary decision-making systems.
  7. Both speakers used examples of political action that spanned multiple platforms; generic and dedicated, online and offline.
  8. Arnau Monterde explored issues of identity and connections within the 15M Movement in Spain. We learned about how the connections between groups within organisations could be seen to evolve through detailed analysis of their online connections.
  9. Collective Intelligence and the Roots of Social Cognition

  10. Robin Dunbar and Chris Frith drew from social and cognitive sciences to discuss the structure and function of the social mind. Both of them gave warning about the potential obstacles for the development of collective intelligence.
  11. Robin Dunbar set out the structure of social relationships that appear to remain consistent across human communities, through Facebook and Twitter, Plato's Democracy, modern armies. No matter the technology, these limits remain: but can we design modular systems around them?