The Digital Revolution & Intelligence in Groups

The Internet is becoming a giant global computer, and every time you go on it, you upload a video, you do a Google search, you remix something, you’re programming this big global computer that we all share. Don Tapscott, 2012

digital revolution
Image Courtesy of the BBC

Human brains have been shrinking for the past 20,000 years. Unless our wiring has become more efficient, this suggests that we’re becoming less intelligent- at least as individuals. And yet, we’ve achieved so much more than our early ancestors. Many anthropologists believe this is primarily down to the collective intelligence engendered by civilization. In this digital age, we are programming a web of networked intelligence that allows us to orchestrate collaboration, innovation and openness like never before. Every day, 200 million tweets are posted. Every month, the average Facebook user creates 90 pieces of content. Every time we upload a video, browse Google or mash up content, we are collectively building a machine that takes us far beyond the early purpose of the Internet to display content. The Internet empowers us to share knowledge. Mobile devices enable immediacy. Social media gives anyone a voice in a global conversation. A potent combination to facilitate transparency, innovation and openness.

There is an interesting expert from Michael Nielson’s new book Reinventing Discovery: ‘Even the best mathematicians can learn a great deal from people with complementary knowledge, and be stimulated to consider ideas in directions they wouldn’t have considered on their own. Online tools create a shared space where this can happen, a short-term collective working memory where ideas can be rapidly improved by many minds. …This speeds up the problem-solving process, and expands the range of problems that can be solved by the human mind.’ The Internet enables a web of conversations on a global scale, and still with rapid feedback. The CEO of Goldcorp, a mining firm in Toronto, was in a pickle when his team of analysts believed the gold deposits in the company’s 50 year old property had been emptied. Coupled with increasing debt, high production costs and employee strikes, CEO Rob McEwan quite literally struck gold with a radical new approach. He created the ‘Goldcorp Challenge’ whereby he opened up his IP on the Internet, making available every piece of information about the property for all participants to download to attempt to solve his problem. Submissions came from over 1000 participants from over 50 countries- from mathematicians to computer graphics experts- many without any training in Geology. Collectively, this open-sourced network identified 110 targets worth over £3 billion, and effectively saved the company.

Julian Assange has been in the world’s media spotlight with his radical approach to freedom of information through WikiLeaks. Assange famously believes that ‘We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not’. Armed with mobile deices, social media and the Internet, we all have powerful tools at our disposal to produce, expose and inform news content. In the case of Ian Tomlinson, there was a huge discrepancy in the statement given by the police-that his death was caused by natural causes- as opposed to the hard evidence captured on various cameras by witnesses in the general public.

Collaboration and Empowerment Another benefit of mobile technology and social media in particular, is the ability to organise and empower collective activity and responses. During the revolution in Tunisia, for example, students would use their mobile devices as a form of self-defence. They would avoid sniper attacks from by taking photos on their phones, triangulating the location, and sending the pictures to friendly military units who would then arrive to protect them. Haiti provides another example of the benefits of hyper-connectivity and mobile technology for humanitarian aid. SMS messages were used as signals for help, so much so that local entrepreneurs in Port-au-Prince created mobile charging stations so that people could stay connected. By the end of this year, there’ll be nearly a billion people on this planet that actively use social networking sites, and in

5 years time there will be more mobile phones in the world than people. We’re at a turning point in history, where this digital revolution is enabling us collectively solve some of humanities greatest challenges. Here’s to an exciting future!