MIT looks to give 'group think' a good name

Think about it as conventional wisdom -- refined, and with the negative connotation replaced by a healthy dose of applied technology.

With Friday's public opening of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (formerly the Center for Coordination Science), researchers there hope to address this central question: "How can people and computers be connected so that -- collectively -- they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before?"

In anticipation of the event, I put a few questions to CCI Director Thomas Malone, a management professor and author of the "The Future of Work."

"We'll announce one specific project at the launch event," said Malone. "As described in the launch event press release, the project will involve a group of perhaps thousands of people collectively writing a business book Wikipedia-style.  We also expect to have projects on prediction markets, global climate change, and many other topics.

The book will be called "We Are Smarter Than Me" -- more than 300 individuals have already signed on to participate -- and involves the Wharton Business School, Shared Insights and Pearson Publishing.

 So what's to be found in all of this academic noodling for those who put their heads down and plow through IT jobs every day?

"I believe that many people will be doing lots of 'natural experiments' with collective intelligence in the next few years -- with or without us," Malone says. "But I think that, as university-based researchers, we can help companies in several ways:

-- "By systematically finding and describing interesting examples of collective intelligence that people are trying anyway, we can help speed up the process by which network professionals and others can learn from each other's experience.

-- "By developing and analyzing new examples of collective intelligence ourselves, we can help advance the state-of-the-art of technologies and organizational approaches that companies can use.

-- "By developing theories to explain all these things, we can help network professionals and others understand new ways of organizing themselves that would never have been possible before but that may be far more efficient, flexible, and innovative than traditional ways of organizing.

"To help do these things, we expect to work with a select group of companies as sponsors of our research.  In some cases, these or other companies will also be research sites where we will study innovative examples of collective intelligence."

What prompted the renaming and refocusing of the old Center for Coordination Science into CCI?

"While the work we expect to do in CCI could have been done in the previously named center, we feel that 'collective intelligence' is a much more exciting way to frame what we want to do," Malone says.  "This new name emphasizes the exciting possibilities before us, and it has captured the enthusiasm of many people around MIT with whom we had never worked before."

Friday's CCI launch event will include a live Webcast.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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