The Hive Mind Needs More Women

29 Aug

Kevin Kelly wrote a thought-provoking post about how "the impossible" is happening more often nowadays, thanks in no small part to large scale collaboration over the Internet. In other words, the hive mind. He cites eBay and Wikipedia as two examples of things he would've thought impossible in decades past.

Collaboration over the Web is still evolving. One way it might be immediately improved is by adding more women to collective intelligence projects and by shutting up the loud mouths. I'm not idly speculating here, those were the findings of a recent study by MIT's Center for Collective Intelligence.


The study found that collective intelligence is not as dependent on individual intelligence as first thought. Having more women in a group improves the collective intelligence, because it raises the level of "social sensitivity." Another important factor is letting everyone talk equally, rather than having the loudest or most opinionated people dominate the conversation.

Back to what Kelly wrote. He posits that more previously impossible things will emerge thanks to "large-scale collaboration, or immense collections of information, or global structures, or gigantic real-time social interactions." He continues:

"Just as a tissue is a new, bigger level of organization for a bunch of individual cells, these new social structures are a new bigger level for individual humans. And in both cases the new level breeds emergence. New behaviors emerge from the new level that were impossible at the lower level. Tissue can do things that cells can't. The collectivist organizations of wikipedia, Linux, the web can do things that industrialized humans could not."

This thinking dovetails nicely with the MIT report. Carnegie Mellon's Anita Woolley explains the findings more in this video:

The implications of all of this for any company doing online business is clear: optimizing groups with more women and more democratic discussion is just as important as casting your crowdsourcing net far and wide. As Aaron Saenz at Singularity Hub put it: "With enough research the crowds of tomorrow may be optimized for the best possible amounts of collective intelligence. Not just huge amounts of thought-power, but efficiently organized huge amounts of thought-power."

It's also something that tech conference organizers should bear in mind. I for one could do with less loud, opinionated people dominating group discussions - as often those people are the least thoughtful.

Kevin Kelly concludes that "humanity is migrating towards its hive mind." Whether or not you agree with that somewhat extreme position, collective intelligence will continue to be a big driver of Web innovation. We just need more women and less loud mouths, don't you think?

Photo credit: I Love Milwaukee