What's the next step in collective intelligence?
May 19, 2006 7:49 AM   Subscribe

What's the next step in collective intelligence?

I've been involved in computer mediated communication & online discussion pretty much ever since there was such a thing. My first modem was a Volksmodem connected to a Commodore 128 that ran a blazing 1200bps. I remember when AOL was Quantum Link, when IRC competed with BITnet Chat, when gopher, WAIS, archie & veronica gave way to HTTP. I read the announcement that "there are now 50 sites on the World Wide Web" & saw the September that never ended on Usenet. Search engines, blogs, RSS aggregators & wikis, at every step along the way I've been at or near the edge of the construction of this shared collaborative space that's being built.

I say this not to brag, I just happened to be there as it all happened & played a minor role at best in any of it. But it's given me a perspective that lets me see the trends & progression of how people connect & share their ideas with each other, all of which leads back to the question that started this little rant, "what comes next?" I have my own ideas but I want to hear what everybody else thinks about it.

(I think the hardest part of this question was choosing the category, there's about half a dozen that fit equally well. I'm not sure what that means.)
posted by scalefree to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by thandi at 8:04 AM on May 19, 2006

Probably something more realtime than what we have now. Like a combination of IM and Wikipedia.
posted by smackfu at 8:14 AM on May 19, 2006

Server-side applications
posted by ZackTM at 8:26 AM on May 19, 2006

GPS + WiMAX + camera + phone + iPod in one device made by the million in China and sold very very cheap = ubiquitous mesh network (among other interesting things).
posted by flabdablet at 9:24 AM on May 19, 2006

Best answer: On smackfu's tip, I'd imagine something where you can hire experts (in any field) for *small* blocks of time and talk to them via IM or Skype and pay for that small block.. if that could be pulled off, that's a major next step.

I often have very minor things I need help with, but 'questions' sites aren't specialized enough (or I want to keep it private).. and regular professionals and freelancers want to do 'projects' or have minimum sets of hours. Whereas being able to ask a competent accountant/plumber/programmer/etc 10 minutes of questions and paying him $20 would be excellent (and potentially encourage professionals to sit at home giving advice for $100 an hour).
posted by wackybrit at 10:33 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wackybrit, sounds like we're partway there right here on AskMe! Except it's free and we're not necessarily competent
posted by Quietgal at 10:59 AM on May 19, 2006

Response by poster: wackybrit: OK, I l.ike that idea. What's needed to make that happen? The first obstacle I can see is how to measure competance & expertise within the application. I don't want to blow my $20 on some guy who thinks he knows everything about a subject but doesn't or on a scam artist posing as an expert, but I also don't want a real expert to put his time in on my problem only to have me blow him off because his help didn't satisfy me or because I'm trying to rip him off & get help for free. Some sort of trust/recommender system & some sort of mediation system seem to be warranted, along with pricing & listing modules. That's a lot to take into account, but I like the basic idea & I see a lot of potential in it.

Anyone have any other ideas?
posted by scalefree at 11:00 AM on May 19, 2006

You might find Ray Kurzweil's book "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology" interesting, though you may be asking about shorter-term changes. The "Singularity Summit" at Stanford was last weekend, so you've missed that unfortunately, but maybe the proceedings will be online soon. From what I heard it was pretty good.
posted by anadem at 11:00 AM on May 19, 2006

Response by poster: I'm famailiar with Kurzweil & I'm pretty skeptical & pessimistic about any Singularity, on both theoretical & historical grounds. Specifically I think it's foolish to extrapolate too far about the limits of a function when you're inside it & also we're much more likely to see a civilizational crash than a spike in the next half century. But that's a discussion for another time & place. Yes, I'm definitely focused much more on the here & now than Kurzweil.
posted by scalefree at 11:09 AM on May 19, 2006

I dont have a catchy name for it but I think there's still a lot of potential in the joining of physical and virtual space.

At a basic level, if I am in a cafe with lots of laptops, I want to have a corresponding virtual space where people can interact - this can be a as simple as a shared messageboard.

But, more than that, I can go home and run an app which is something like GoogleEarth but in realtime and then zone-in on any local conversation. Within that virtual space, I would be marked as an outsider.

So, for example, I could communicate with the people there, physically there, at the cafe, or on the streetcorner and ask them: Is the cafe crowded? Whats the weather like over there? Has the cafe counter run out of muffins? -or- hey, you guys might want to look out your window, a big parade is on its way.

I hate the idea of tracking your friends as they go about your mundane activities, but they could also "log-in" to this system, the same way they login to IM today and also allow you to see where exactly they are, geographically.

Throw in geo-tagged stuff like photos, travelogues, weblog entries, "public" conversations, news etc as extra metadata and you can build a richer and richer virtual world that overlaps the physical ones. I think the tools for this will only get better.
posted by vacapinta at 1:03 PM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

wackybrit and scalefree, it tried and failed to work with Keen.com (which now just does "advice" and fortunetelling).
posted by sachinag at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2006

Best answer: Wackybrit- Google Answers is close to what you want.
posted by pgoes at 2:09 PM on May 19, 2006

Response by poster: Some info on keen.com. I wonder what their downfall was.
posted by scalefree at 2:16 PM on May 19, 2006

Some info on keen.com. I wonder what their downfall was.

They were a few years too early and had a surprising lot of competition. I did some consulting for one of their competitors, Information Markets Co., whose business model was to sell private-label "information market" services through portal sites like Yahoo! and Lycos. With them in the game, Keen would potentially have been competing with all the biggies. And that on top of three or four other more direct competitors, whose names have been lost to history (or the depths of my brain -- it WAS six years ago, after all).

Another handicap Keen.com faced was that they weren't named Google.
posted by kindall at 2:48 PM on May 19, 2006

Response by poster: I think the thing that bothers me about Google Answers is its lack of transparency & network-driven structure. There is a tip jar & a negative rating option & presumably Google uses those to judge the quality of its researchers & adjust their rates. But it's still a top-down system & significantly opaque, both major strikes against any collective intelligence IMO. I'd still like to see somebody try this in a more open source/semantic web style system.
posted by scalefree at 3:16 PM on May 19, 2006

scalefree, it may help generate more ideas if you share your ideas that you hinted at in the question (also, I'm curious).
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:45 AM on May 20, 2006

Best answer: From my perspective, some of the next steps (most of which are starting to happen now):
* Social search
* Digital identity
* Reputation systems
* Bridging digital/physical communities
* Distributed services/tools developed specifically to augment existing communities and social connections
* Realtime shared-expertise (You're on the Global Frequency!)
* Social Knowledge Collections
* Automatic data/metadata collection, activity tracking
posted by lhl at 12:44 PM on May 20, 2006

Response by poster: You think I should answer my own question? Hehe, OK. Can I mark my answer as best? I'll say this much - I think an area that's almost due to emerge is collaboration, deliberation & reputation. We've got all sorts of ways to let people express their individual choices, aggregate them & search them. But there's not a lot of software being developed around decision making. We need to start playing more seriously in that space, in building systems that allow us to collectively choose between one option & another, pick one opinion over another & one person over another. Once we can do that effectively, then we can really get to work on solving some real problems.
posted by scalefree at 2:12 PM on May 20, 2006

The trouble I've been having trying to think of an answer to this question is that it seems to invite a singular, definitive answer, whereas there are a great many interesting and probably important technologies starting to emerge, many of which have been noted above. A simple list doesn't seem to get to the heart of the matter - which is in interconnecting open systems, using API's, XML, semantic-web sorta stuff.

My perception of the next step, then, is not the individual technologies themselves, but the shift to systems being built on the combinations, aggregation and sharing of data between a great variety of disparate systems. Here's an example - a distributed wikipedia, where individuals or groups write entries based on their knowledge, whose merit is then assessed based on separate digital ID, reputation, trust and FOAF systems.

I sometimes think persistent virtual worlds of various kinds are going to take off in a big way within the next 5-10 years. I can't guess at the basis of these systems, but I wonder if the www may be somewhat superceeded by Second Life-esque worlds and communities (from within which one may interact with the www as desired). Certainly multiplayer gaming is becoming a lot more collaborative, with more interest in collaborative FPS', MMOGs, the popularity of XBox360 Live and similar such things. Interesting things I expect to come from this.

Collective decision making sounds like a good idea, but I haven't any idea how or if it could be moved forward anytime soon, though I guess virtual worlds and all the other fancy ideas mentioned above may contribute somehow.
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:43 PM on May 20, 2006

See also, The Croquet Project.
posted by MetaMonkey at 2:42 AM on October 1, 2006

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