Archive for collective intelligence

Shockwave Rider: How to grow Delphiniums

“It works, approximately, like this.

First you corner a large — if possible, a very large — number of
people who, while they’ve never formally studied the subject you’re
going to ask them about and hence are unlikely to recall the correct
answer, are nonetheless plugged into the culture to which the question

Then you ask them, as it might be, to estimate how many people died in
the great influenza epidemic which followed World War I, or how many
loaves were condemned by EEC food inspectors as unfit for human
consumption during June 1970.

Curiously, when you consolidate their replies they tend to cluster
around the actual figure as recorded in almanacs, yearbooks and
statistical returns.

It’s rather as though this paradox has proved true: that while nobody
knows what’s going on around here, everybody knows what’s going on
around here.

Well, if it works for the past, why can’t it work for the future?
Three hundred million people with access to the integrated North
American data-net is a nice big number of potential consultees.”

excerpted from John Brunner’s 1975 novel Shockwave Rider

Ab Initio: Swarms

In his text ‘Networks, Swarms, Multitudes‘, Eugene Thacker identifies some of the key aspects of a new constituency emerging from both post-national politics and new technological and biopolitical structures:

* A swarm is an organization of multiple, individuated units with some relation to one another. That is, a swarm is a particular kind of collectivity or group phenomenon that may be dependent upon a condition of connectivity.
* A swarm is a collectivity that is defined by relationality. This pertains as much to the level of the individual unit as it does to the overall organization of the swarm. Relation is the rule in swarms.
* A swarm is a dynamic phenomenon (following from its relationality). This differentiates it from the concept of a “network,” which has its roots in graph theory and spatial modes of mathematically understanding “things” (or nodes) and “relations” (or edges). A swarm always exists in time and, as such, is always acting, interacting, interrelating, and self-transforming. At some level “living networks” and “swarms” overlap.
* A swarm is a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, but it is also a heterogeneous whole. This is not to identify a unified, homogeneous group that serves the heterogeneous needs and desires of individuals. Rather, the principles of self-organization require that the group only arises from the localized, singular, heterogeneous actions of individual units.
* Swarms come with ambiguous politics. The swarm is not the newest term for the concept of the “masses,” the “people,” or the “proletariat”; the parts are not subservient to the whole — both exist simultaneously and because of each other. A swarm may exhibit a discernible global pattern, but this does not mean that a swarm prioritizes the group over the individual. Because of this, a swarm does not exist at a local or global level, but at a third level, where multiplicity and relation intersect.

The ‘Shockwave Riders…’ symposium will critically engage these ideas to debate how global social networks will transform all aspects of society, and map out ways that pedagogy and design can predict, and respond to, some of these changes.