The Dialectics of Collective Intelligence


Harry Halpin
University of Edinburgh

The long-standing debate over the role of representation and logic in human intelligence seems to be drawing to a close, with the current hegemony in artificial intelligence and cognitive science moving towards a focus on "embodied" intelligence, exemplified by work in robotics and biological simulations. However, as the tide has slowly turned towards embodiment, our lives are increasingly disembodied through the ubiquitous influence of the World Wide Web. Although we may remain agnostic over the role of internal representation in intelligence, there is little argument that our daily lives are increasingly dependent on external digital representations. By extending the Extended Mind Thesis of Chalmers and Clark to situations where a representation is digital and so may be accessed simultaneously by at least two different intentional agents, the rather fuzzy notion of collective intelligence can be adequately explained and so positioned as an powerful alternative to any sort of purely biological or "embodied" reductionism. This line of thought is not without historical precedent, as it follows from the efforts of J.C.R. Licklider's "Man-Machine Symbiosis" and Douglas Engelbart's "Human Augmentation Framework", the line of research that led to the Internet, personal computing, and the Web itself. We trace historically how this line of development dialectically confronts and overcomes divisions of time, space, and collectivity and so provides the cognitive scaffolding of collective intelligence in the era of digital representations.

Harry Halpin is a research postgraduate at the University of Edinburgh with Andy Clark and Henry S. Thompson. His interests lie in the
intersection of the the World Wide Web, artificial intelligence, and philosophy of the mind. He was a Visiting Fellow from 2006-2007 at Duke
University where he helped organized the HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) conference. He is also active in web standards as Chair of the GRDDL W3C Working Group and a member of the W3C Semantic Web Co-ordination Group, and previously he has worked in areas as diverse as computational linguistics and virtual reality.