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The Hive Mind (the WWW)

By ITS Education Asia

By Dr. Orville Leverne Clubb, Head ITS Education Asia BTEC Centre

Around ’93, ’94, the conventional wisdom about the Internet was that it was a toy for academics and researchers. So it was very, very underestimated for about two years.  – Marc Andreessen (from the website “BrainyQuotes”)


Over my last few blogs I have looked at humans and how we are not cool headed analytical primates that deal with decision making logically. I believe we are closer to our closest living primate cousins, the chimps and bonobos, in forming our social behavior. Sometimes, I think our technology has developed much faster than our human social structures.

As a computer science academic, I supervised final year student projects that were based on such tools as “genetic algorithms”. Genetic algorithms were used for solving optimization problems such as pilot scheduling for an airline where you have flights, pilots and planes. The genetic algorithm would build a pilots’ work schedule based on a natural selection process that mimics biological evolution.  In engineering we are copying nature’s solutions more frequently. In this blog I will introduce the WWW as a hive mind.

In my first blog, in this series, I coined the term “Supratelligence” to deal with the internet repository of knowledge. As the WWW grows we are starting to see another mimic of a biological behavior, the hive. In an article titled The Internet as a Hive Mind Orion Jones use the analogy of bee hives to describe our newest use of the WWW. Jones stated that “When we are online, we are essentially linked to a vast hive mind, known in psychology as a transactive memory system, which allows us to access the collective knowledge of anyone and everyone.

In an interesting article titled The Collective Intelligence Genome  The authors point out how Google, Wikipedia and Threadless are exemplars of collective intelligence in action. They state that the three examples  “demonstrate how large, loosely organized groups of people can work together electronically in surprisingly effective ways — sometimes even without knowing that they are working together, as in the case of Google”.

Google takes the judgments of millions of people as they create links to web pages which adds to supratelligence and enables access to intelligent answers to the terms we type into the Google search bar.

In the case of Wikipedia, there are thousands of volunteers who are contributors from around the world and have created, and continue to collectively create, the world’s largest encyclopedia. Most Wikipedia articles are of remarkably high quality. Wikipedia has been developed with almost no centralized control. Anyone who wants to can add an item or change almost anything. Decisions about what changes to keep or what items are added are made by a loose consensus of those “who care”. The people who do all this work are not supposed to be paid but are “interested volunteers”. However, there has been some controversy with the open nature of Wikipedia being used by special interest groups. This is topic that deserves a separate blog.

The above cited article is from the MIT Sloan Management Review so they needed a business application. The application they chose is Threadless, a design company where anyone who wants can design a T-shirt and submit their design to a weekly contest. The weekly entries are then rated online by the Threadless collective group. Threadless chooses the entries receiving the highest internet ratings. Threadless then selects winning designs, puts them into production and gives prizes and royalties to the winning designers. In this way, the company harnesses the collective intelligence of a community of over 500,000 people to design and select T-shirts. We are truly in a technological revolution that is having a profound effect on our daily lives.

However, people forget that the internet was invented by the US department of Defense (DOD) in the form of the Arpanet. The internet was invented as a military tool. In 2019, we will be celebrating the 50th of the Internet. Being a military tool, no wonder today we are being manipulated through social media and the internet with “astroturfing”, “fake news”, “cyberwars”,etc. A great video is “Changing the hive mind by a young Computer Science Assistant Professor, Tim Weninger. It is a little over 10 minutes but well worth watching.

Dulwich College Singapore

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