7 min read

Notes on Collective Intelligence from Reinventing Discovery

Editor's note: Below is a giant text dump, might clean up eventually.
    1. Reinventing Discovery
    1. Online Tools Make Us Smarter
    • Superficially, the idea that online tools can make us collectively smarter contradicts the idea, currently fashionable in some circles, that the internet is reducing our intelligence

      • But new technologies seldom have just a single impact, and there’s no contradiction in believing that online tools can both enhance and reduce intelligence. You can use a hammer to build a house; you can also use it to break your thumb. Complex technologies, especially, often require considerable skill to use well. Looking at the internet and concluding that the main impact is to make us stupid is like looking at the automobile and concluding that it’s a tool for learner drivers to wipe out terrified pedestrians.

    • In part 1 of this book we’ll use these concrete examples to distill a set of principles that explain how online tools can amplify collective intelligence. #Claim

    • As our understanding deepens,
      • we’ll see that scientific problems are especially well suited for attack by collective intelligence, #Claim
      • and in part 2
        • we’ll narrow our focus to how collective intelligence is changing science. #Claim
    • To solve their problem with wireless routers, ASSET tried something unconventional, searching for help using an online marketplace for scientific problems called InnoCentive. InnoCentive is like eBay or Craigslist, but aimed at scientific problems. The idea is that participating organizations can post online “Challenges”— scientific problems they want solved—with prizes for solution, often tens of thousands of dollars. Anyone in the world can download a detailed description of a Challenge, try to solve the problem, and win the prize.

      • It's more akin to Freelancer.com for science.

    • Underlying InnoCentive is the premise that there is enormous untapped potential for scientific discovery in the world, potential that can be released by connecting the right people.

      • This premise has been confirmed, with more than 160,000 people from 175 countries signing up to InnoCentive, and prizes for more than 200 Challenges awarded.

    • Many of the successful solvers report...that the Challenges they solve closely match their skills and interests. Furthermore...connections are usually made between parties who otherwise would only have met accidentally. InnoCentive makes such connections systematically, not as lucky one-offs, but at scale

      • The reason the connections made by InnoCentive are so valuable is, of course, the big gap between the skills of the people posing the Challenges and those solving the Challenges.

      • Skills of people asking questions <----BIG GAP----> Skills of people capable of answering those questions
    • the attention of the right expert at the right time is often the single most valuable resource one can have in creative problem solving. Expert attention is to creative problem solving what water is to life in the desert: it’s the fundamental scarce resource. InnoCentive creates value by [[restructuring expert attention]]

    • Very occasionally, though, you’ll solve a problem in a completely different way. You’ll be talking with an acquaintance, when one of your problems comes up. You’re chatting away when BANG, all of a sudden you realize that this is exactly the right person to be talking to. Sometimes, they can just outright solve your problem. Or sometimes they give you some crucial insight or idea that provides the momentum needed to vanquish the problem. This kind of fortuitous connection is one of the most exciting and important moments in science. The problem is, such chance connections occur too rarely. The reason designed serendipity is important is because in creative work, most of us—even Einstein!—spend much of our time blocked by problems that would be routine, if only we could find the right expert to help us.

    • Designed serendipity enables us to rapidly and routinely solve many of those previously insoluble problems, and so expands the range of our problem-solving ability.

      • [[Literature Notes]] Serendipity is rare and upsides are huge, therefore, it must be designed.

    • When we attempt to solve a hard creative problem on our own, most of our ideas go nowhere. But in a good creative collaboration, some of our ideas—ideas we couldn’t have taken any further on our own—stimulate other people to come up with daughter ideas of their own. Those, in turn, stimulate other people to come up with still more ideas. And so on. Ideally, we achieve a kind of conversational critical mass, where the collaboration becomes self-stimulating, and we get the mutual benefit of serendipitous connection over and over again. It’s that transition that is enabled by designed serendipity, and which is why the experience of designed serendipity feels so different from ordinary collaboration. It occurs when collaboration is scaled up, increasing the number and diversity of participants, and so increasing the chance that one idea will stimulate another new idea.

      • [[Fleeting Notes]] #roamcult achieved, and continues to achieve creative chain reactions.

    • Centuries ago it was, perhaps, possible for a single brilliant individual—an Aristotle or Hypatia or Leonardo—to surpass all others across many areas of knowledge.

      • [[Fleeting Notes]] [[Leonardo da Vinci]] didn't know everything; but everything he knew, he had learnt on his own, as a result in part, they were unique. Hence Leonardo had a larger [[microexpertise]] than most.

    • The purpose of the online tools is to help people figure out where they should direct their attention. The better the tools can direct people’s attention, the more successful the collaboration will be.

Put another way, the online tools create an architecture of attention whose purpose is to help participants find tasks where they have the greatest comparative advantage. Ideally, that architecture of attention will bring the attention of the right expert to the right problems. The more effectively expert attention is allocated in this way, the more effectively problems can be solved
- > The purpose of the online tools is to help people figure out where they should direct their attention. The better the tools can direct people’s attention, the more successful the collaboration will be.

Put another way, the online tools create an architecture of attention whose purpose is to help participants find tasks where they have the greatest comparative advantage. Ideally, that architecture of attention will bring the attention of the right expert to the right problems. The more effectively expert attention is allocated in this way, the more effectively problems can be solved.
- #[[Fleeting Notes]] How do we apply [[Feldenkrais]]' philosophies to online tools and collective intelligence?
- Summary
- To amplify collective intelligence, we should scale up collaborations, increasing the cognitive diversity and range of available expertise as much as possible.
- This broadens the range of problems that can easily be solved. The challenge in scaling up collaboration is that each participant has only a limited amount of attention to devote to the collaboration.
- That limits the volume of contributions to the collaboration that any one participant can pay attention to.
- To scale up the collaboration while respecting this limitation, the online tools must establish an architecture of attention that directs each participant’s attention where it is best suited—that is, where they have maximal comparative advantage.
- Ideally, the collaboration will achieve designed serendipity, so that a problem that seems hard to the person posing it finds its way to a person with just the right microexpertise to easily solve it (or stimulate further progress).
- Conversational critical mass is achieved, and the collaboration becomes self-stimulating, with new ideas constantly being explored.
- many collaborative patterns.. can help
achieve these ends, including:
- > Modularizing the collaboration, that is, figuring out ways to split up the overall task into smaller subtasks that can be attacked independently or nearly independently.
This reduces barriers to entry by new people, and thus broadens the range of available expertise. Modularity is often difficult to achieve, requiring a conscious, relentless commitment on the part of participants.

            - Very relevant to Roam.
        - > Encouraging small contributions, again to reduce barriers to entry, and to broaden the range of available expertise.
        - > Developing a rich and well structured information commons, so people can build on earlier work. The easier it is to find and reuse earlier work, the faster the information commons will grow.
    1. Restructuring Expert Attention
    • Groups have used ([[collective intelligence]] in)
      • three main ways to solve creative problems:
        • large formal organizations, such as the hundreds or thousands of people who may be involved in creating a movie, say, or a new electronic gadget;
        • the market system; and
        • conversation in small informal groups.
      • [[Fleeting Notes]] How did [[Michael Nielsen]] come up with 3 ways? What would the 4th one be?

    • [[online collaboration]] vs [[conventional collaboration]]
      • Consider a movie production.
        • A modern blockbuster movie may employ hundreds or even thousands of people. But unlike [[online collaboration]] projects, each employee has their own assigned role in the production.
        • An employee in the movie’s art department won’t usually give advice to a violin player in the orchestra.
        • Yet that’s exactly the kind of decision making that happened in Kasparov versus the World.
          • In movie terms, it was as though an unknown stranger had wandered on set, made a crucial suggestion to the director, completely changing the course of the movie, and then wandered off.
      • A [[dynamic division of labor]] is where all participants in a collaboration can respond to the problems at hand, as they arise. All participants in the Polymath Project could follow the rapidly evolving conversation, and jump in whenever they had a special insight.
        • [[Fleeting Notes]] Notifications about questions are preferred over alerts about answers.

          • [[Literature Notes]] You receive a higher diversity of reactions to questions than answers. In other words, a transmitted question brings in more information (in the [Claudian]([[Claude Shannon]]) sense.)

        • In larger groups different group members focus on their own preassigned areas of responsibility. [Online tools]([[online collaboration]]) change this, making it possible for large groups to harness each participant’s special areas of [[microexpertise]], just-in-time as the need for that expertise arises.
      • Consider the collaboration of 138 particle physicists whose work led to the 1983 discovery of the Z boson, a new fundamental particle of nature, at Europe’s CERN particle accelerator.

Unlike Kasparov versus the World or the Polymath Project, each of the people in the CERN collaboration was hired to fill a set role.

The roles ranged over many carefully chosen specialties, from engineers whose job was to cool down the particle beam, to statisticians whose job was to make sense of the complex experimental results.

^^Such specialized collaborations can accomplish remarkable things, but with their relatively fixed roles and static division of labor they leave a great deal of^^ [[microexpertise]] ^^latent, and show little flexibility in their purpose. Their inflexibility means that while they can do extremely important science, it’s not a model that can easily be adapted to the more fluid ends characteristic of much of the most creative scientific work.^^
- #[[Literature Notes]] Scope out responsibilities for projects, not people.
- #[[Fleeting Notes]] We should be careful not to use [[CERN]]'s strategy at [[Roam]].
- The big advantage of [[online collaboration]] over offline conversation are in scale and diversity.
- #[[Fleeting Notes]] The disadvantage is that it's less rich than [[Face2Face Conversations]] and demands more resources/time to transmit thoughts.

    1. Patterns of [[Online Collaboration]]
    1. The Limits and the Potential of [[Collective Intelligence]]