Systems, Superminds and Collective Intelligence

Original article was published on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

The entire world is organised into systems. Be it an ecosystem in the forest, nations, markets, communities, governments or companies. We all form a part of different systems at different times in our life. If you have ever worked in an organisation or been to school, you have been a part of a system.

Ever used email at work? Then the computer might have collaborated with you on composing the email, checking for spelling errors and making sure the email reaches its target receiver. Most modern human systems like organisation, communities or nations are a combination of humans and machines collaborating, helping and working together. It is very rare to find a system with only humans or only machines in it. Your neighbourhood tech company is nothing but a group of humans and machines working together.

Note: Machines here are defined as any technology that helps humans. Machines could be hardware based in the case of a conveyor belt, washing machine or a robot, or they could be software like email, word processor or chatbots.

When you observe a system from the outside (a company, a government), it sometimes feels like the system has a mind of its own. Let’s call this idea a ‘Supermind’ — a group of individuals acting together in ways that seem intelligent. The individual in this case could be a human or a machine. The verb ‘acting’ signifies the processes and interconnections between components of the system. One thing to note here is that the individual components do not always need to cooperate or have the same goals, however they need to be acting together.

‘Supermind’ — a group of individuals acting together in ways that seem intelligent.

We usually think of intelligence as a quality that individuals posses. However, many of our largest and most complex problems are often solved by groups of individuals (or Superminds). If we think of intelligence as an ability to solve problems, then Superminds can also act intelligently. We call this intelligence ‘Collective intelligence’ — the result of a group of individuals acting together in ways that seem intelligent. Collective intelligence is something that makes systems effective, productive, adaptable or even resilient.

‘Collective intelligence’ — the result of a group of individuals acting together in ways that seem intelligent. Collective intelligence is something that makes systems effective, productive, adaptable or even resilient.

Although the individuals in the system might not have the same goals, most systems do work towards achieving a particular outcome. A company’s goal could be increasing its profits or market cap while a government’s goal could be improving the well-being of its citizens. This desired outcome can simply be described as the impact of the system.

Increasing collective intelligence can help increase the efficiency, productivity or output of the system, and thereby its impact.