Visiting the SWARM Collective Intelligence project

As society’s problems get only more complex (not just more complicated), there is growing interest in how we can blend “the cloud with the crowd” — the best of machine intelligence and human intelligence. Specifically, complex, wicked problems are never resolvable by individuals analysing a problem and announcing the solution. Multiple perspectives are needed, and engaging stakeholders in helping to define the problem, never mind deciding what might count as an acceptable solution, is critical.

Collective Intelligence (CI) is one of the current names given to efforts to demonstrate the when done well, groups or even casts of hundreds/thousands of citizens, can work more effectively on a problem than individuals. Internet platforms provide cost effective ways to harness the crowd. As we speak, teams are competing in the IARPA CREATE competition, to build the best online platform that can harness the expertise of a team of volunteer citizens.

I was delighted to be invited by Tim van Gelder, who co-leads the University of Melbourne’s IARPA SWARM Project (Smartly-assembled, Wiki-style Argument Marshalling), to spend the day with them, discussing how they are tackling this challenge. For over 20 years, I’ve been exploring the design of a specific class of CI platform, dubbed Contested Collective Intelligence. These are designed around the principle that people will disagree as much as they agree, and it is important for computer systems to be able to work with that. Read more on the CIC Knowledge Cartography page. Tim and I go way back due to our common interest in visualising argumentation (see Tim’s track record developing argument mapping tools), and the lessons we’ve learned about both the benefits of ‘seeing what you’re saying’, as well as the adoption obstacles to helping people think more critically.

The SWARM team’s approach looks to be very promising, and could have exciting applications in educational and training contexts. A finely balanced design mix of social platform with very lightweight semantics, and analytics on the roadmap. I look forward to seeing the word spread as they put it out there. The good news is that the platform will be released open source. Track their news and sign up if you want to participate.

Meantime, here is my distillation of 20 years work into a series of dilemmas and (partial) solutions… (PDF version), which I’ve been blogging over the years under the tags collective intelligence and argument mapping.

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