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Groups Think

The Center for Collective Intelligence studies collaboration

Study groups are one of the things freshmen have to get used to during their first semester at MIT: rather than a way to cheat, they turn out to be a way for students to solve problems and teach each other.

“We are smarter than me” is not only a lesson for freshmen but the unofficial motto of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (cci.mit.edu), a new cross-­disciplinary research center that includes faculty from the MIT Media Lab, the Sloan School of Management, and the departments of cognitive science and computer science. The key question for the CCI, said director Thomas Malone at the center’s October launch, is “How can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any individual, group, or computer has ever done before?” The CCI’s associate director, Stephen Buckley, offers examples of collective intelligence in action: the ranking of Web pages by Google’s search algorithms, or the predicting of prices by futures markets.

The CCI and its approximately 20 faculty members from different disciplines will initially work on three experimental projects. The first is a collaborative book on community intelligence, titled We Are Smarter than Me. The second is an online wiki, the Handbook of Collective Intelligence, to which anyone can contribute content on the titular topic. The third, just at the proposal stage, is the Climate Collaboratorium, which aims to entice experts of all stripes from around the globe to collaborate virtually on climate change problems, using the CCI’s software. Once these projects are more mature, they may serve as bases for classes taught by center faculty, says Buckley.

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