Thomas W. Malone, director of MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, on his study of humanity’s ability to think beyond our own brains: the idea of “collective intelligence”.
What does collective intelligence mean? It’s important to realize that intelligence is not just something that happens inside individual brains. It also arises with groups of individuals. In fact, I’d define collective intelligence as groups of individuals acting collectively in ways that seem intelligent. By that definition, of course, collective intelligence has been around for a very long time. Families, companies, countries, and armies: those are all examples of groups of people working together in ways that at least sometimes seem intelligent.
It’s also possible for groups of people to work together in ways that seem pretty stupid, and I think collective stupidity is just as possible as collective intelligence…
What’s new, though, is a new kind of collective intelligence enabled by the Internet. Think of Google, for instance, where millions of people all over the world create web pages, and link those web pages to each other. Then all that knowledge is harvested by the Google technology so that when you type a question in the Google search bar the answers you get often seem amazingly intelligent, at least by some definition of the word “intelligence”….
Our future as a species may depend on our ability to use our global collective intelligence to make choices that are not just smart, but also wise.
Want to dig deeper? Andy Revkin has a collection of links on his NY Times DotEarth blog. The fact that we are even having this discussion, in the connected manner that we are having it, is a pretty good example of the power of this idea.
In terms of brain research; and so the plot thickens!
Birds teach passwords to their unborn chicks to detect impostors
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might remember a post about cuckoos and brood parasitism. Basically, cuckoo mothers lay eggs in other birds’ nests, and when the cuckoos hatch, they kick out the other hatchlings and take all the food for themselves. For the mothers of the non-cuckoo species, it’s not so simple to detect the impostors because the eggs are elaborately colored to almost perfectly mimic those of the host species. That mothers can’t tell which eggs are impostors is a serious problem, because it means her offspring die and she thus can’t pass on her genes.
At least some species have come up with an ingenious solution: they teach their young a password, while they are still in the egg, which the young will repeat after being born to prove that they’re the real deal.
She kept 15 nests under constant audio surveillance, and discovered that fairy-wrens call to their unhatched chicks, using a two-second trill with 19 separate elements to it. They call once every four minutes while sitting on their eggs, starting on the 9th day of incubation and carrying on for a week until the eggs hatch.
When Colombelli-Negrel recorded the chicks after they hatched, she heard that their begging call included a single unique note lifted from mum’s incubation call. This note varies a lot between different fairy-wren broods. It’s their version of a surname, a signature of identity that unites a family. The females even teach these calls to their partners, by using them in their own begging calls when the males return to the nest with food.
These signature calls aren’t innate. The chicks’ calls more precisely matched those of their mother if she sang more frequently while she was incubating. And when Colombelli-Negrel swapped some eggs between different clutches, she found that the chicks made signature calls that matches those of their foster parents rather than those of their biological ones. It’s something they learn while still in their eggs.
When a cuckoo chick emerges, the parent can tell that it’s an impostor and can abandon the nest to form a new brood without wasting energy on the cuckoo. What an amazing adaptation! These sorts of stories are absolutely incredible to me, and they really demonstrate the awesome power of evolution.
Dr. Michio Kaku answers: can nanotechnology create a utopia? It’s an interesting question, and he continues in a different video with a (much longer) discussion on economics, technology and the future.
Astronomers have found a star that breaks speed records as it orbits the Milky Way’s central black hole, covering 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) per second as it whips around the black hole in less than a dozen years.
Image: The orbits of stars within the central arcsecond of our galaxy. In the background, the central portion of a diffraction-limited image taken in 2012 is displayed. Image released October 4, 2012. Credit: Andrea Ghez and research team at UCLA/data sets obtained with W. M. Keck Telescopes
The discovery offers scientists a unique chance within the decade to test Einstein’s theory of relativity in an extreme environment.
The star is named S0-102. It’s one of a class of “S-stars” that surround the center of the sun’s home galaxy in a kind of spherical shell. It has an orbital period of 11.5 years, give or take 3 1/2 months, making it the shortest-period star ever found in the region. The previous record was set by S0-2, which has a 16-year period.
Venus transiting the Sun.