Living in a Connected World/The Hive Mind and Collective Intelligence

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Types of collective intelligence

ollective intelligence is where the intelligence of a group out-weighs the intelligence of an individual. There are various types of collective intelligence, as is indicated in the visual to the right. In his book 'Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace',[1] Pierre Lévy introduces the concept that collective intelligence can be broken down into five components:

  • Ethics
  • Economics
  • Technologies
  • Politics
  • Aesthetics

The Hive Mind is an entity of multiple people who openly share their knowledge and opinions, which may lead to collective intelligence or uncritical conformity.

History and Origins[edit | edit source]

Portrait of Nicolas de Condorcet
The phrase 'hive mind' being inspired by bee hives

The first investigation into the concept of collective intelligence can be traced back to the philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet, whose jury theorem in 1785 deduced that there was link between group sizes and their overall correctness. Then in 1911 though his study of ants becoming superorganisms, William Morton Wheeler determined that collaboration between species leads to an otherwise unattainable success. Various other writers such as Douglas Hofstadter, Tom Atlee, Pierre Lévy, Howard Bloom, Francis Heylighen, Douglas Engelbart, Cliff Joslyn and Ron Dembo went on to continue to investigate and observe collective intelligence, forming the current understanding of this group intelligence.

The concept of a hive mind is often used as a trope in various sci-fi books, tracing back to Olaf Stapledon's science fiction novel Last and First Men (1930). Non-fiction wise, Kevin Kelly's book Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World (1994) heavily featured the concept of a hive mind, with the writer directly linking the beehive nature to human group intelligence.

Main Concepts of Collective Intelligence[edit | edit source]

The main concepts of collective intelligence are ethics, economics, technologies, politics, aesthetics and sociology.

Ethics[edit | edit source]

The moral principle of ethics is brought into consideration whilst discussing the concept of collective intelligence. As collective intelligence consists of a wide range of multiple individuals, this allows for a wide range of both ethical advantages as well as ethically problematic practices.

Ethical Advantages of Collective Intelligence[edit | edit source]

Tom Atlee, an American social, peace and environmental activist, feels that collective intelligence can be encouraged "to overcome 'groupthink' and individual cognitive bias in order to allow a collective to cooperate on one process – while achieving enhanced intellectual performance." [2] A lack of personal bias in results from collective intelligence proves as a advantage as it eliminates the ethical problem of biased results that a singular entity may provide.

'Smart mobs' is a term coined by Howard Rheingold to describe groups of collective intelligence. In his article he affirms that cooperation causes civilizations to advance as well as the general lives of civilians to improve. He notes that "Language, the alphabet, cities, the printing press did not eliminate poverty or injustice, but they did make it possible for groups of people to create cooperative enterprises such as science and democracy that increased the health, welfare, and liberty of many", displaying the positives of a collective intelligence. [3]

Advantageous Examples[edit | edit source]

Example of a photo taken of the Buncefield fire
Logo of Facebook, one of the social media sites used to find the identity of Jason Callahan

The internet is the perfect place for collective intelligence to blossom as it is accessible to millions across nearly every country. Geert Lovink expresses an advantage of this collective intelligence in his book 'Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture', where he cites the Buncefield fire as an instance where collective intelligence helped shape the news, noting that "The BBC received 6500 e-mailed mobile images and video clips showing the fires at the Buncefield oil depot [...] Media started to look more participatory and inclusive". [4]

Another advantage of collective intelligence is the wide spread coverage Amber alerts on missing people receive. By using methods such a sharing articles and re tweeting posts from official police sources, thousands of people are alerted to news they might otherwise be oblivious to. Also in relation to crime, the collective intelligence of social media users on Reddit and Facebook helped to track down the identity of a car crash victim allowing his family to be notified and given the closure they were waiting for. [5]

Ethical Problems of Collective Intelligence[edit | edit source]

Whilst the aforementioned smart mobs can prove a positive, Howard Rheingold also discusses the negatives that the collective intelligence can cause. He notes that "There are the dangers as well as opportunities concerning smart mobs. I used the word "mob" deliberately because of its dark resonances. Humans have used our talents for cooperation to organize atrocities. Technologies that enable cooperation are not inherently pathological: unlike nuclear bombs or land mines, smart mob technologies have the potential for being used for good as well as evil." [6]

Problematic Examples[edit | edit source]

Yahoo!, the email provider that was hacked

The collective intelligence of smart mobs can be used to commit harmful actions, such as mass hacking of private accounts. An example of this is the infamous Yahoo hack where over one billion accounts were compromised. This hacked data included users' names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, passwords and encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers. This illegal and invasive use of collective intelligence reveals the disregards of ethics that such a system can provide. [7]

Ethical Problems In Relation to The Hive Mind[edit | edit source]

Ethics are also in need to be taken into consideration whilst analyzing the hive mind. The group mentality of the hive mind can lead to deindividuation, which is the loss of self-awareness in a group. This can lead to cyberbullying as groups are easily swayed and targeted without realizing the damage they are causing, using the group dynamic as a guise to hide behind. A more in-depth discussion of the problems of the hive mind can be found in the Problems of the Hive Mind section.

Economics[edit | edit source]

20 Largest economies

The US is known as having the largest economy. They are 7 trillion dollars ahead of China. The UK ends up in 5th place with a 2.9 trillion dollar economy. The digital economy has a great deal to do with it. Tiziana Terranova describes the Collective Intelligence as a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills… The basis and goal of collective intelligence is the mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals. Knowledge labour is inherently collective, we create content from one peer to another. Collective knowledge work, then, is not about those who work in the knowledge industry. But it is also not about employment. The mass layoffs in the digital media industry have not hindered the internet content or technology from growing. One battle the collective knowledge faces is government agencies and the like, are trying to “reimpose the regime of the broadcast era in which the customers of technology will be deprived of the power to create and left only with the power to consume.” The other industries such as film and music industries want you to “pay to play.”

The Digital Economy[edit | edit source]

The digital economy is an easy way to copy or share information with little to no cost. Terranova explains the digital economy as specific forms of production, such as web design, multimedia production, digital services etc.

Web design, digital services etc.

Distributing value by its likelihood of profit is the processes of ‘channelling’ according to Terranova. “Music, fashion, and information are all produced collectively but are selectively compensated. It is a form of collective cultural labour which makes these products possible even though the profit is disproportionately appropriated by established corporations.” Knowledge work, according to Terranova, is an essential quality to innovation and achieving goals. Human intelligence adds value to the economic health of the organization but it can’t be managed the same way as more common types of labour. Knowledge workers need open gateways in order to create, due to their process being rooted in collaboration.

Labour[edit | edit source]

The collective Intelligence of the digital age has created a unique conundrum in the way of labour. The problem being most labour is not returned in wage because it is possible with so many people collectively producing content, for someone to work for free. Terrranova explains the “society-factory” describes a process whereby ‘work processes have shifted from the factory to society.’ Which in turn creates voluntarily given and unwaged, enjoyed and exploited, free labour. This activity on the Net includes building web sites, modifying software packages reading a participating in mailing lists and building virtual spaces. Many have discussed the draw backs of this particular situation being, as Terranova would say, the death of the middle man, from bookshops to travel agencies and Blockbusters a like.

LimeWire Logo

The Recording/Film Industry[edit | edit source]

The same economic pickle is shared between both the recording industry and the film industry. The pickle being file-sharing. These industries both have problems with illegally downloaded content and are trying to back “protection devices” that will prevent smaller users from distributing or creating content online and only allow larger players to do so. The industries get robbed of millions of dollars due to web sites dedicated to file sharing. It’s so easy for users to google a song or a movie and find a free version on the internet due to the peer-to-peer communication on the internet. Web sites such as Napster, and Lime wire have been handled legally in courts but the damage was still done.

Napster[edit | edit source]

Napster's Spike in 2001

Napster was a UK file sharing web site for mostly MP3s that was created in 1999. It’s ease with peer-to-peer interaction ushered its success. The web site got millions of hits and downloads. Until artists like Dr. Dre and Metallica started to find their unreleased music on the website. They sued the web site and the suits were settled in 2001 after being shut down.

Radiohead had a more enjoyable experience with Napster. Radiohead was never known for their top hits. They never made it on the radio and never released singles. So when their album was leaked early the production crew was extremely worried about sales. All of a sudden their songs were being downloaded by the millions. Their song jumped to #1 on the charts and everyone was buzzing about it. The interaction on the site created the buzz and in turn Radiohead was more popular than they had ever been before.

Technologies[edit | edit source]

Advantages of Technologies within Collective Intelligence[edit | edit source]

Collective intelligence is the collaboration of information of everything that we use in our everyday lives. Thousands of people have collaborated specialist information, but no one with a full understanding, to create an overall accepted idea. Pierre Levy suggests, “No one knows everything, everyone knows something.” [8] This is why technology has become one of the most groundbreaking resources that people can use as it allows them to gain knowledge on topics that are discussed all over the world.

This quotation from David Guantlett, supports this statement. “The internet is the most extraordinary of these external storage systems, offering access to a vast array of information, text and audio-visual material, and giving people a platform to share and exchange ideas, and to collaborate on projects together.” [9]

This is exactly what we are using this Wikipedia Project for, it allows groups of students, like us, to collaborate out ideas and portray them in a way that the rest of the world can see. It is an update of an essay, that aids everyones learning.

It is easier to keep in contact with friends and family, it is easier to research, keep up to date on breaking news and experience things as the are happening live. This has allowed society to speed up and be active online 24/7. Nowadays all the information that is needed to anyone is available at the touch of a button.

Advantage - Examples[edit | edit source]

The development of Collective Intelligence has allowed the web to become more widespread and evolve from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. You can see from this table that the development of websites and applications has allowed society to have more access to online information.

Web 2.0
Web 2.0 Development Web 2.0
Double Click —> Google AdSense
Ofoto —> Flickr
Akamai —> BitTorrent —> Napster
Britannica Online —> Wikipedia
Personal Websites —> Blogging
Evite —> and EVDB
Domain Name Speculation —> Search Engine Optimisation
Page Views —> Cost Per Link
Screen Scraping —> Web Services
Publishing —> Participation
Content Management Systems —> Wikis
Directories (Taxonomy) —> Tagging (“Folksonomy”)
Stickiness —> Syndication

These developments have aided a positive growth of the internet and allowed Collective Intelligence to increase as Web 2.0 created a space for a blooming platform where individuals could portray their own ideas. This is where the specialist information was shared and consumed to create the ideas that society has today.

The ability to ‘subscribe’ to a website and receive notifications on it’s updates every day was another huge stepping stone in the web becoming ‘live’. This addition to web viewing was vital in the development of Collective Intelligence as it allowed society to have constant access and connection to other people’s views and ideas. Richard Skrenta, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur called it the ‘incremental web’.

Tim O’Reilly (2005) has shaped Web 2.0 into 9 different topics, it is based on user generated content and relates to things covered within this chapter. The idea of 'subscribing' relates to user generated content. This shows that the internet is becoming what we make it.

  • Participation
  • Collective Intelligence
  • Better software by more users
  • Control of one one’s data
  • Rich user experience
  • Remixing data
  • Radical decentralization
  • Radical trust
  • Users as contributors


MIT Logo

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the main research Universities in the world and has played a key role in the development of Collective Intelligence, the CI research centre at MIT is headed by Professor Thomas Malone. “The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence brings together faculty from across MIT to conduct research on how people and computers can work together more intelligently and on the underlying scientific questions that help make this possible.” MIT’s goal is to further discover ways in which people can use technologies to communicate ideas and ripen this idea. This research centre shows the magnitude of Collective Intelligence and this research centre is collecting examples and case studies of Collective Intelligence applications. [11]

President Trump's Inaugural Address - Streamed Online to 2.3 Million Viewers

There are many advantages of Technologies within Collective Intelligence, they have allowed the world to grow together and share ideas, information and discoveries in seconds. It is now possible to know what is happening a million miles away. A recent example of this is the 2016/17 presidential elections. 30.6 million people watched Donald Trump's inauguration on 12 different networks. 2.3 million of these people watched on one of the 16.9 million livestreams. This is an example of the advantages of collective intelligence, as it allowed the viewers to be right there in Washington DC that day. [12]

Disadvantages of Technologies within Collective Intelligence[edit | edit source]

Is all this information available to us via the internet and technology making us smarter? The answer seems to be no. Society is getting more selfish, and users take everything at face value. They don’t ask questions and their attention spans have shrunk. As a society, it is expected that because these technologies are on hand that everything should be fast, efficient and reliable. Within Collective Intelligence, it has been seen that people do not think for themselves and ‘steal’ others' ideas and this is what creates a hive mind. These technologies have allowed the web to become a place of consumption and less contribution, and as Guantlett says “creativity will become an industrial tool and it’s positive potential will be destroyed.” [13] MIT professor Thomas Malone believes that technologies have not been used in a productive way to fix our global problems like climate change and the third world problems. It has been used to create entertainment, and a sociable platform for users. He believes it has gotten to the point where it is difficult to stop this evolution of the Web and start to use it for its original purpose. [14] This over-populated space of information “feeds resentment and hostility, the humiliation and frustration from which violence is born.” [15] In Pierre Levy’s reading What is Collective Intelligence he suggests that if we do not accept and acknowledge other people’s intelligences when reading information we can become selfish and start only thinking about ourselves and we do not gain a full view of the information and topic at hand.

Disadvantage - Examples[edit | edit source]

Filter Bubbles

Have you ever noticed when you are online an advert comes up for a dress, book or gadget you had looked at a week before online comes up? This is because the use of the internet everyday is tracked and then produces adverts on your screen specifically by what you have previously clicked. This is a claustrophobic form of advertising that is referred to as Filter Bubbles. It has stopped the ability to view things by choice. It starts to show you content you are already aware of and starts to narrow the way you think, as you do not have a clear idea of the whole topic. This is when Collective Intelligence becomes a Hive Mind. It is believed that The Hive Mind is the negative effect of an over populated Collective Intelligence - also known as Artificial Intelligence. [16]

Hive Mind[edit | edit source]

Beehive - Relates to a Hive Mind. An Inclosed Space Where Ideas are Trapped and Unable to Grow

“Even if one individual is not capable of much, collectively a swarm of insects can solve difficult problems.” [17] This is what is meant by a hive mind. The information that has been gathered and became a Collective Intelligence has now been overused and shared and not allowed anyone else to form their own opinions. Due to technologies, everyone else's opinion is available 24/7 and it then makes it hard to create our own. This difficulty has created what is considered a negative of Collective Intelligence, The Hive Mind.

Collective Intelligence allows flow for the development of ideas and opinions wheres the Hive Mind does not. It is as it suggests, a fixed, rigged structure that contains the animals. Although the animals inside the Hive help each other and share opinions on decisions, it does not allow growth for new ideas. The risk of technologies is that it will start to enclose the options of society in with Filter Bubbles and therefore causing no space to grow and to develop opinions.

Thomas Malone wrote “The most intelligent person is not the one who's best at doing any specific task, but it's the one who's best at picking up new things quickly.” [18] This ties in the idea that the members of society who are allowing their mind to accept new ideas are more intelligent. They can be part of Collective Intelligence, but not actually be intelligent as they have a limited range of options and ideas, and therefore can be put in the Hive Mind category.

Social Networking Sites[edit | edit source]

Scottish Independence Referendum Results

Social Networking Sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Twitter are starting to hinder societies' abilities to formulate their own ideas. Everyone is using these sites to vent their opinions and are very raw and uncut. If you follow users and accounts online this is the only content you see and it starts to become very biased as you click on what you want to see. Unlike newspapers, social media sites give you the side of the argument you follow. This has become much more of a problem in recent years. During the 2014 Scottish Referendum it was thought that the Yes Campaign would win as they were the louder voices on social media, but it was actually the Better Together Campaign that won the Referendum. The vote was 2,001,926 (55.3%) to 1,617,989 (44.7%). The ability to place a banner of ‘Yes’ or ‘Better Together’ on top of profile pictures during the Referendum shows how much of an impact SNS had on people’s political views. Seeing other people’s opinions can quickly change other users opinions as you read into what the people you are following are saying. Glasgow University analysed 2.8 million tweets in the lead up to the vote and claimed that the ‘Better together’ campaign lost the social media battle. The statistics below support this statement. [19]

Social Media Site Yes Followers No Followers
Official Twitter Campaigns 103,000 42,000
Nicola Sturgeon 66,000 xxx
Alex Salmond 95,000 xxx
Alastair Darling xxx 21,000
Official Facebook Campaigns 320,000 218,000


This is a strong example of Collective Intelligence and The Hive Mind. Not everything on the internet is true. Just because an opinion is expressed it does not mean that it is the final decision or correct one. It can be seen here that the ‘Yes’ campaign has more social media support, allowing society to believe that it was going to win the Historic Vote. This is why users online should question all the information they read, and ask themselves if they are reading information on the whole topic or if they are getting stuck in the Hive Mind of society.

Politics[edit | edit source]

Pierre Lévy and the fall of Communism[edit | edit source]

Pierre Levy believes that power lies in the careful management of knowledge, and governments must identify where that knowledge lies and organise it accordingly taking full advantage of people’s skills thus creating a collective intelligence. Levy suggests therefore the communist governments began to decline in the seventies and then finally collapsed in the early nineties because they were unable to follow the transformation of labour to technological and organized structure. “Totalitarianism collapsed in the fate of new forms of mobile and cooperative labour. It was incapable of collective intelligence”. [21]

Democracy and Collective Intelligence[edit | edit source]

Hélène Landemore is a professor of political science who is interested in democratic theory. In her article The Mechanisms of collective Intelligence in politics, Landemore discusses the argument for democracy stating "that many heads are better than one". It has been suggested, especially in politics that a select few of the most intelligent people among us ought to beat the rule of regular people. However, Landemore does not agree with this stating that “Even the best and brightest need not be generally smarter than the rule of the many because of the crucial role of one component of collective wisdom, namely ‘cognitive diversity’ or the existence within the group of multiple ways to see the world and interpret it”. Different races, cultures, sex, sexuality etc can group their collection of experiences and skills to come together as one, creating a vast amount of knowledge. [22]

John Stuart Mill's truth and fallibility argument[edit | edit source]

John-Stuart Mill. John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill was an advocate for democracy and believed everyone should be able to express their own opinions. “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” What Mill means in this quotation is that everyone is entitled to expressing their own opinion without it being censored, even if it is one person’s belief against the majority. Humans have been wrong in the past and governments have censored people that have tried to share their own beliefs. Often these beliefs held by one person which have been censored later become the common beliefs throughout humanity after they have been proven correct through discussion. [23]

It is therefore important to acknowledged someone as an an intelligent being as highlighted by Pierre Lévy in his writings of "What is collective intelligence?" Levy makes the point that not identifying someone as an intelligent being to deny them a social identity. We therefore must identify skills and put them to use. " Not only does it lead to improved skills administration in business and community environments, it also possesses an ethical and political dimension". [24]

Social Media and Politics[edit | edit source]

Through online platforms individuals can come together and express their political views through discussion and hopefully come to a better understanding and conclusion by sharing their ideas. Through platforms such as Facebook, young people can become politically active as it gives them a place to share their ideas and political views. “young people who are involved in online communities become more engaged in politics. Even when these groups involve shared interests like fashion or gaming that are not explicitly political, they encourage political engagement". Through social media young people learn skills which can be applied to a political cause. "When they see online discussions spill over into social issues, they come to pay closer attention to politics. They are more likely to be encouraged to vote or to take some other political action". [25]

Clicktivism[edit | edit source]

Anti-war protesters

However there are acts carried out online which are sometimes describes as low-threshold such as “clicktivism”. By clicking a mouse can we really say that we are being active and participating in political discourse. “Are they simply meaningless, or are they a valid new form of participation that challenge normative notions of democracy and participation”. By liking a comment or sharing a video will enable other people on social media to view the information that has been shared, so perhaps this is a new form of democracy. “Are they simply meaningless, or are they a valid new form of participation that challenge normative notions of democracy and participation”. Clicktivism does not only take place on social media, it can also be used to organise protests, sign petitions and facilitate boycotting thus help spread awareness to a specific cause. So perhaps "clicktivism" can lead to people participating and becoming active in political discourse.[26]

Aesthetics[edit | edit source]

Pierre Lévy describes collective intelligence as a form of ‘universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills’[27], and notes that one of its indispensable characteristics is ‘the basis and goal of collective intelligence is the mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the cult of fetishized or hypostatized communities'. In essence, individual knowledge utilized to enhance the knowledge of the masses; without stratification of its worth based on social factors such as class, race, etc. An awareness of this exists beyond academic analysis of collective intelligence, but also in the consciousness of real people producing online texts in an online climate. One of these real people is Neil Beloufa, a 31-year-old video artist and sculptor whose work deals with hyper reality and human relations, who said “We don’t have hierarchy of knowledge any more, [according to YouTube] Keyboard Cat is more famous than Barack Obama, and a 14-year-old can write an article on Wikipedia. I grew up with that loss of hierarchy of imagery: anyone can say anything about anything."[28]

The Distribution and Consumption of Art, Pre-Cyberspace[edit | edit source]

The Tunnel under the Atlantic (1995), Maurice Benayoun, Virtual Reality Interactive Installation : an example of art aided by technology

In describing how aesthetics function as a component of collective intelligence, Lévy noted that cyberspace 'brings with it methods of collective perception'. This method of collective perception is a subversion of centuries of Western artistic phenomenon, which can roughly be accounted as a person signs an object or individual message, which other persons consume with appreciation, interpretation, etc. The short hand way of conveying this would be to say that ‘the artist signs their work, then recipients consume it'; and examples would include conventional media such as films, television shows, and books. Again, this is articulated by Lévy, who wrote that ‘transmitter and receiver are clearly differentiated and their roles uniquely assigned’.

The Distribution and Consumption of Art, Post-Cyberspace[edit | edit source]

An intrinsic part of technology is that it is constantly evolving; and it is not simply not realistic to attempt to predict a finite impact that cyberspace, and the collective intelligence it aids, will have on various art forms. As Lévy rather dramatically suggests, cyberspace could as easily 'presage, or even incarnate, the terrifying, often inhuman future revealed to us by science fiction' as it could engage with collective intelligence and become 'replete with culture, beauty, intellect, and knowledge'. He heavily emphasizes that the masses are in control of our technological future, and have the ability to progressively interconnect and provide an interface for the various methods of creation, recording, communication, and simulation.

The Hive Mind[edit | edit source]

The term 'hive mind' is usually associated with insects such as ants or bees. Individually, these insects are not considered to be intelligent. However, when they act as a collective and access the 'hive mind' (the collective knowledge of all the insects in the hive), they are able to do extraordinary things. However, with the coming of Web 2.0, media turned social and 'Hive mind' is now a term that can be applied to the Internet and how humans interact with the Internet. Web 2.0 promotes many-to-many connectivity, decentralised forms and control and is user-focused and user-friendly. For example, collaborative content production such as Wikipedia and social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.

There is now an infrastructure in place to support these global social networks and people from all over the world are able to share their knowledge and learn from others through the Internet:

"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." [29]

However, as good as this idea of the 'hive mind' sounds, there are many problems associated with it. As Jaron Lanier (2006) says: "The hive mind for the most part is boring and stupid. Why pay attention to it?" [30]

Problems of the Hive Mind[edit | edit source]

Lower Standards[edit | edit source]

As the amount of information available on the Internet continues to expand, our ability to navigate this information becomes ever more important or we could be swamped with Information Overload. One way to achieve this is to use distributed moderation and filtering systems which aggregate information (such as likes or up-votes) and this information is used to rank and sort items, with the most popular items being placed in positions of greater importance, such as the on the "home page" or "front page" of websites. [31] However, the problem associated with this method of information sorting is that there is no person in charge of deciding what is important or interesting, only an algorithm.

This is a problem that Jaron Lanier identifies when discussing what he calls "Meta-aggregator sites", such as social news sites reddit or Digg. These sites use algorithms rather than people to determine what the most relevant news is but Lanier believes that this method is not as effective. Despite this, people are willing to overlook its deficiencies because it is new and something which resembles Artificial Intelligence:

in "the race to erase personality and be most Meta... there's a presumption that something like a distinct kin to individual human intelligence is either about to appear any minute, or has already appeared. The problem with that presumption is that people are all too willing to lower standards in order to make the purported newcomer appear smart. Just as people are willing to bend over backwards and make themselves stupid in order to make an AI interface appear smart so they are willing to become uncritical and dim in order to make Meta-aggregator sites appear to be coherent."[30]

There is also a concern that people may become over-reliant on the Internet to provide them with information. Rather than simply try to remember the information themselves, in time, people may find it easier to access the "hive mind" of the Internet to find any information they need. This is why Lanier believes that it is essential that people continue to see the Internet as a tool for connecting people and sharing information rather than as an all-knowing entity that can provide them with information. "The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe the Internet is an entity that has something to say, we're devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots." [30]

Deindividuation/Invisibility in Crowds[edit | edit source]

One of the main theories behind Collective Intelligence is that working as a collective will enhance individuals. As Pierre Lévy (1999) says: "The basis and goal of collective intelligence is the mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the cult of fetishized or hypostatized communities." [32] However, this is not always the end result of Collective Intelligence. Often, people find it easier to remain anonymous in a large group and prefer to go along with the general consensus rather than put forward their own ideas. This is something Jaron Lanier has observed in the online world of wikis and meta-aggregation:

"I've participated in a number of elite, well-paid wikis and Meta-surveys lately and have had a chance to observe the results. What I've seen is a loss of insight and subtlety, a disregard for the nuances of considered opinion, and an increased tendency to enshrine the official or normative beliefs of an organisation"[30]

There is less risk associated with going along with the most popular idea, it is safer not to voice your own opinion which may go against the general consensus.

In its most extreme form, this can potentially lead to something called "deindividuation" which is basically a loss of self-awareness when in a group. Deindividuation is mostly unconscious and more likely to lead to mischief. [33] Psychologist David G. Myers describes it as "doing together what you would not do alone." It can potentially have some very negative outcomes, such as cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying[edit | edit source]

Most of us like to believe that we are individuals and unique in some way or another. But this individuality can often be wiped away when we are part of a large group. We lose ourselves to a group mentality and often do or say things that we would not if we were alone. A little encouragement from one member of the group is sometimes all it takes for a person to lose themselves in the group and do things they would not normally do, such as verbally abuse someone online.[34]

Anne R. Allen discusses cyberbullying at length in one of her blog posts and she believes that the hive mind mentality that can develop due to deindividuation is one of the main issues that contributes to cyberbullying. "I think the most egregious abuses spring from something far more dangerous than the lone anonymous troll: 'groupthink' aka the 'hive mind'". [35] She also discusses a quote attributed to psychology pioneer William James: "there's nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it." With social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, this kind of mass repetition is more dangerous than ever. People are able to globally spread falsehoods or abusive posts that contribute to cyberbullying in just a few minutes. Anne R. Allen also believes that once someone has entered into this "hive", they feel a compulsion to repeat themselves as if to prove that they are right. This hive mentality also makes it almost impossible to reason with individual members of the hive because they have lost their individuality.

"Members of a 'hive' that has perpetuated a falsehood or misinterpretation of facts fuel a narcissistic compulsion to keep repeating it - to 'prove' their own righteousness... Once an individual joins in an attack on a designated victim, s/he becomes assimilated into the collective hive mind and seems to lose the ability to behave as an individual." [35]

Lack of Real Engagement[edit | edit source]

Person pouring ice water over head
A person performing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

It has become a concern for some people that it is now too easy to sign a petition, support a charity, or show solidarity for a cause online. People follow whatever is popular or trending at the time, whether it is doing the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS or changing your profile picture to include the French flag after the terrorist attacks in Paris 2015, without giving any real thought to the issues. A couple of clicks to show your support and it is done, never to cross your mind again.

"In our social media age, we demonstrate empathy in the easiest way possible - a few mouse clicks - much like the knee-jerk dropping of a few coins into a peddler's can, without much reflection whether such act of sympathy would make a difference, as long as the gut-felt emotion is relieved." [36]

The days when political action required careful planning and serious thought appears to be disappearing and replaced by a few mouse clicks. But do the mouse clicks actually amount to anything other than making yourself feel better?

Social News[edit | edit source]

Social news (e.g. reddit) provides an alternative to conventional news media in determining what 'the news' should be. Rather than having an editor deciding which stories to publish and where to place them as happens in traditional news media, the role of an editor is fulfilled by the users in social media. The placement of items is decided by an algorithm which accounts for the up-votes and down-votes of the users and places the most popular posts in the most visible locations, with users hoping to reach the "front page" of the site.

This method of deciding what is 'newsworthy' has its flaws. As increased visibility ultimately leads to increased voting activity, it is possible that content which goes against the majority view of users could be suppressed. "The 'rich get richer' mechanisms which these websites are built on would suggest that for any controversial issue opinions which are opposed to that of the majority will potentially be excluded from prominent locations."[31]

Another problem associated with social news sites is the repetition of content. Rather than try to come up with their own individual, original content, many users conform to the hive mind of the site and attempt to replicate content that has proven to be successful.

"Reddit's penchant for up-voting certain types of post is often discussed by users. The tendency for users to submit posts of a type which have previously been received well is known in the community as 'circlejerking' - and a sub-reddit exists for the purpose of highlighting and satirising these trends (the 'circlejerk' sub-reddit). This, and the perception that posts which go against commonly held beliefs or movements are always down-voted, are two of the main characteristics of what reddit users often refer to as the 'reddit hive mind.'" [31]

Potential of the Hive Mind[edit | edit source]

Despite the potential problems associated with the hive mind, it can be a useful tool in certain situations. As Jaron Lanier, a critic of the hive mind, says:

"The collective is more likely to be smart when it isn't defining its own questions, when the goodness of an answer can be evaluated by a simple result (such as a single numeric value,) and when the information system which informs the collective is filtered by a quality control mechanism that relies on individuals to a high degree. Under these circumstances, a collective can be smarter than a person. Break any one of these conditions and the collective becomes unreliable or worse... Every authentic example of collective knowledge that I am aware of also shows how that collective was guided or inspired by well-meaning individuals. These people focused and in some cases also corrected for some of the common hive mind failure modes." [30]

An example of this could be Wikipedia. Often considered to be one of the champions of the Web 2.0 movement, praised for the collaborative nature of its knowledge production. In fact, as Niederer & van Dijck (2010) show, much of Wikipedia's content has been produced by a small core of dedicated individuals rather than a horde of anonymous users particularly during the first five years of its existence. [37] These well-meaning individuals have helped to guide the production of Wikipedia content rather than allow it to be overwhelmed by a hive of anonymous users.

The Sociology of the Collective Intelligence and Hive Mind[edit | edit source]

The way our "human-essence" interacts in society is a direct result of new media and technology

Human societies have distinctly evolved and advanced alongside each progressive shift in technology. As both the minority and majority worlds are in the midst of the informational revolution, the technology utilised by human conscious is a matter of sociological investigation. It is necessary to understand technology’s place in relation to how society is structured, and how Web 2.0 has socialised individuals across cultures.

The Socio-Technological Paradigm Shift[edit | edit source]

The improvement of technology used by humans throughout our history, has resulted in societal-revolutions found within the collective conscious. The overlaps with each development from these socio-technological advancements results in paradigm-shifts. These shifts occur within the collective intelligence and correspond to the advancement of technology. The progressions observed are results of human beings collaborating with one another.

These shifts are highlighted below:

The industrial revolution was observed by many classical sociologists.
  • from foraging
  • to hunting & gathering
  • to horticulture (hand-used tools)
  • to agrarian (using animal drawn plough)
  • to industrial
  • to informational (currently the paradigm we are living in) [38]

These shifts in lifestyle innovation and information progression, display how human societies are constantly striving and moving forward into a more structurally sound future.

Lanier reaffirms that human beings are worth cherishing because of their rich, distinctive, individual, natures, not because of they are simple and predictable [39]. He gives the example that YouTube and Flickr work exceptionally well because they enable users to create content, with each unit of collaboration being relatively substantial there in of itself. Unlike Marx’s understanding of the product of labour under capitalisms (which is when the individual feels alienated from their work), this perspective contests that classical understanding. It is difficult to determine if that means the internet exists in a post-capitalist bubble, or Marx’s writings regarding the work produced by an individual social agent can not be applied to the technology of the internet.

Hive-Mind Enthusiasts[edit | edit source]

There are many sociological pioneers who, in recent years, who enthusiastically praise the Hive-Mind structure that Web 2.0 possesses. They mainly consider the way we very rapidly have been socialised to interact with and comprehend digital media in a new way, fundamentally groundbreaking. They argue that nothing like this societal shift in communication has happened before. Thoman and Joss could be considered Hive-Mind enthusiasts, they explain that our adoption of New Media literacy is incredibly complex: “To be a functioning adult in a mediated society, one needs to be able to distinguish between different media forms and know how to ask basic questions about everything we watch, read, or hear,” [40]. This ability that now many people have is unlike anything seen before, and it purely a result from the way structure of society and how technology has permeated culture to promote this New Media literacy. Other hive-mind enthusiasts such as Clay Shirky and Charles Leadbeater, are enthusiastic about pragmatic, rational collaborations. These scientific and qualitative collaborations to study information work wholly more effectively than more expressive and creative endeavours; "challenging the traditional view that intelligence is an attribute of individuals, the distributed cognition perspective holds that intelligence is distributed across “brain, body, and world", [to achieve] high-quality mush – full collaborations at a fine grain level”[41].

Marx's Notion of Alienation[edit | edit source]

Karl Marx's theory (pictured) on alienation is arguable more relevant than ever in regards to the Collective Intelligence, which he prophesied in his writings.

Technological Estrangement[edit | edit source]

When Marx was writing about alienation during the industrial revolution, he observed workers carrying out monotonous tasks on the production line which alienated them, not only from the product of their labour, but also each other. This separation and exclusion can perhaps still be seen today, as technology in the workplace has evolved. In the mid 20th century alienation was observed predominantly in bureaucracies and the service industry as they regulated autonomy. In the book Labour and Monopoly Capital, Braverman spoke about how the degradation of the jobs available to the working class resulted in a mass “deskilling”[42] millions of workers across the contemporary capitalist economy. Many other thinkers in the field argue that as a result of the proliferation of the technological Collective Intelligence, it has resulted in the population being dumbed down [43]. These ideas address the capability of technology as society progresses, but also the Marx’s notion of alienation. Through transformations like automation, fragmentation of companies, and outsourced processing; alienation is said to be felt be many across the contemporary working world.

In Marx’s wider understanding of alienation, he addresses estrangement from other people, ourselves, the external world, and “human essence” [44]. This idea in relation to the internet is particularly controversial. On the one had Web 2.0 has constructed an open, unregulated institution which comprises of peer collaboration, communication and comprises of a decentralised leadership. The internet has the ability to inspire the “phenomenon of individual intelligence” within a hive-minded structure [45]. The internet can be seen as a tool to democratise information and communication. This is something that Marx almost prophesised; the "accumulation of knowledge and of skill, [which materialises through the] productive forces of the social brain"[46]. This statement can be viewed in a way to outline the collective conscious, and how it has merely migrated to a more accessible plane – the internet. Therefore, the perhaps the opposite of alienation has emerged; unity across cultures has been accomplished.

Novel Alienation[edit | edit source]

Many voices, however, dispute this viewpoint and consider the technology in a contemporary context to be alienating to the user. There is a claim that the individual is alienated from “real life” when they participate in “cyber life” [47]. This novel form on alienation, can be said to only further isolate individuals. Isolation from; others (through decreased social interaction), and the human-essence (through lack of meaningful, creative stimulation). The sort of paradigm the internet exists as should be seen as a tool rather than a product in itself. With this perspective, perhaps it can be viewed more objectively, as a pragmatic system containing vast information and data – with the power to transform the planet into a global village [48].

Societal Impact of the Hive-Mind[edit | edit source]

Real World Examples[edit | edit source]

There are many examples where the Collective Intelligence is employed by society in reaction to real-world problems. The case study and examples below are observed by contemporary sociologists as outstanding examples which highlight the constructive power of the collective intelligence and hive mind.

Hurricane Katrina[edit | edit source]

In 2005 citizens affected by the hurricane and flooding proactively shared their own self-produced media and began sharing information in order to trend online, to draw attention to the situation. In Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture Jenkins speaks comprehensively about the disaster.

"After Jonathan Mendez’s parents evacuated from Louisiana to his home in Austin, Texas, he was eager to find out if the floods had destroyed their home in Louisiana. Unfortunately for him, media coverage of the event was focused exclusively on the most devastated parts of "New Orleans, with little information about the neighbourhood where his parents had lived. With some help from his coworker, they were able, within a matter of hours, to modify the popular Google Maps Web service to allow users to overlay any information they had about the devastation directly onto a satellite map of New Orleans. Shortly after making their modification public, more than 14,000 submissions covered their map." [49]

Demonstration in Al Bayda, Libya, a key cultural moment in the Arab Spring narrative

As a result of this many of the victims, and families of those affected by the hurricane and the damage it wrecked on the community were able to reach out into a relatively new domain to appeal for help - the internet. The lack of mainstream media's attention to help assist with the floods etc. meaning thousands of lives were saved. The amalgamation of people and minds from all around the globe was one of the first examples to support the constructive societal process, carried out by the hive mind. This democratised pursuit to help as many people as possible was unimaginable 15 years ago, but now so many other socio-political movements would have not been possible were it not for the online community and collective intelligence.

These include:

  • The Black Lives Matters protests - held in the US as a direct response to police brutality and murder of many innocent, African American citizens. These were made possible through the persistent trending of victims names, and the wide spread, online talk surrounding the issue.
  • The Arab Spring - many governments throughout the Arab world, were democratically overthrown by its citizens. Due to the censorship of information online and in the mass media, the only way for these recent revolutions to have had occurred was through the utilisation of the Collective Intelligence online.

Glossary[edit | edit source]

The principles underlying the work of a particular artistic movement.
Artificial Intelligence
The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
Cognitive Diversity
The power of having cognitive diversity in the workplace is the same power that companies try to attain through strong leadership and great communication. It's a more inclusive, collaborative, and open space where people feel empowered to create and implement ideas.
Collective Intelligence
A group intelligence which is formed by contributions from a wide range of people.
The use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.
A perceived environment in which communication occurs over a computer network.
The loss of self-awareness in groups.
Filter Bubbles
A filter bubble is a result of a personalized search in which a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the use.
Hive Mind
A collective consciousness, analogous to the behaviour of social insects, in which a group of people become aware of their commonality and think and act as a community, sharing their knowledge, thoughts and resources.
Such a group mentality characterised by uncritical conformity and loss of a sense of individuality and personal accountability.
A distributed memory that both perceives and remembers.
Information Overload
Exposure to or provision of too much information or data.
A device or program which enables users to communicate with others.
Knowledge Labour
Labour based on learning knowledge rather than capital
A method of systematic review that mirrors the processes of a quantitative review whilst holding to the traditions and requirements of qualitative research (it aggregates findings into a combined whole that is more than the sum of the individual findings in a way that is analogous with meta-analysis).
Smart Mob
A group that uses modern technology to coordinate and communicate.
Social Media
Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.
The collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration (e.g. forums, microblogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis).
Social Networking Sites
A place online where users can create accounts and share options and follow content

they agree with and like.

Social News
A much more personalised form of news consumption, delivered on a central platform (like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) according to how users engage with news stories from various sources.
An arrangement to receive something, typically a publication, regularly by paying in advance or an arrangement by which access is granted to an online service.
Web 1.0
Web 1.0 refers to the first stage in the World Wide Web, which was entirely made up of Web pages connected by hyperlinks
Web 2.0
The second stage of development of the Internet, characterised especially by the change from static web pages to dynamic or user-generated content and the growth of social media.
A website or database developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add and edit content.

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