Collective Intelligence 2012: Scope

Intellectual scope

Collective intelligence is groups of individuals acting collectively in ways that seem intelligent (Malone, Laubacher, & Dellarocas, 2009).

We recognize that this definition is ambiguous. Indeed, it is purposefully so in order not to prematurely constrain what we believe to be an emerging discipline.

We seek papers about behavior that is both collective and intelligent. By collective, we mean groups of individual actors, including, for example, people, computational agents, and organizations. By intelligent, we mean that the collective behavior of the group exhibits characteristics such as, for example, perception, learning, judgment, or problem solving.  
Fields that are potentially appropriate
  • Network science
  • Computer science
  • Cognitive science
  • Neuroscience
  • Management / organization theory
  • Economics
  • Social psychology
  • Sociology
  • Political science
  • Biology (e.g., social insects)
How does collective intelligence relate to other fields?
In establishing a new field like collective intelligence it may be useful to indicate how the new field overlaps with and differs from existing fields.  In that spirit, therefore, we suggest the following loose guidelines for thinking about how collective intelligence relates to several existing fields:

Existing fields

How is collective intelligence (CI) different?

Computer scienceCI overlaps with the subset of computer science that involves intelligent behavior by groups of people, computers, or both.  For instance, "groups" of one person and one computer ("human-computer interaction") might be peripherally part of CI, but combining multiple people and computers to solve problems that neither could solve alone (e.g., "human computation", "crowdsourcing") is central to CI.
Network scienceCI focuses on the subset of network science that involves intelligent collective behavior.  For instance, analyzing how diseases or rumors spread in a network would not be central to CI because there is no overall intelligent behavior being analyzed.  But studying how network topology affects the speed with which networks of people solve overall problems would be central to CI.
Sociology, political science, economics, social psychology, anthropology, organization theoryThese social sciences all study the behavior of groups of people.  They overlap with CI only when there is a focus on overall collective behavior that can be regarded as more or less intelligent.  For instance, analyzing how individual people's attitudes are determined or how they make economic choices would not be central to CI.  But analyzing how different regulatory mechanisms in markets lead to more or less intelligent behavior by the markets as a whole would be central to CI.  Similarly, analyzing how different organizational designs in a company lead to better or worse performance by the company as a whole would also be central to CI.
Cognitive scienceCognitive science focuses on understanding the nature of the human mind including many aspects of mental functioning that may be regarded as part of intelligent behavior (such as perception, language, memory, and reasoning).  CI overlaps with cognitive science only in places where the intelligent behavior arises from groups of individuals.  Most obviously, this occurs with groups of people (e.g., "group memory"), but studies of how different parts of a single brain interact to produce intelligent behavior might also be part of CI.
BiologyCI overlaps with the parts of biology that focus explicitly on group behavior that can be regarded as intelligent.  For instance, studies of beehives and ant colonies sometimes focus on how the individual insects interact to produce overall behavior that is adaptive for the group.

Malone, Thomas W., Laubacher, Robert and Dellarocas, Chrysanthos N., Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome of Collective Intelligence (February 3, 2009). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4732-09. Available at SSRN: