Human Intelligence is Social Intelligence

This paper does not define social intelligence in the sense of emotional intelligence - the ability of some people to be emphatic to others and gain a deeper understanding of motivations. Or as the ability to understand groups and social manipulation (like so-called "spin-doctors" - a form of social engineer frequently used by political parties and large corporations).

Instead, social intelligence is defined as the result of groups of people.

Or as Russell C. Eberhart, James Kennedy and Yuhui Shi in "Swarm Intelligence" put it: Traditional methods for creating intelligent computational systems have privileged private "internal" cognitive and computational processes. In contrast, "Swarm Intelligence" argues that human intelligence derives from the interactions of individuals in a social world and further, that this model of intelligence can be effectively applied to artificially intelligent systems.

This paper understands social intelligence as an emergent phenomenon - created from human interaction. While traditionally the individual is seen as the bearer of intelligence and intelligence itself is defined as the ability of a single person to solve problems successfully (invent things, solve equations etc.) lately different definitions have emerged: swarm fish may not be aware of the total (social) effects of their behavior but the protection effect of building a swarm can't be denied.

Some will say that the rules that guide those fish are extremely simple - like the ones that cause birds to build flocks - and that there is no representation of the effects in the minds of the participants. But One could also argue that this world desperately needs "intelligent effects" no matter how intelligent its single actors are! And people are not fish or birds.

The Social Computer

Is there a thing called "Social Computer"? How about a football team? The teams seem to produce intelligent behavior beyond the abilities of a single player. They compute "soccer game". How about a company with its employees? They compute "products" quite successfully. Some perhaps not. What are the rules behind those social computers? What about nations? Here we have the problems that not all elements of this social computer can directly interact with each other due to complexity problems. How can we solve the complexity problem?

Computer Science meets (again) social reality - here comes everybody

Clay Shirky just published his new book on "here comes everybody" and he gives some clues about the inner workings of the social computer and how computer science can support it. In his talk he shows how the group forming abilities of the Internet provide the ground for better social computers.

First the states the complexity problem of groups: the larger the group becomes the harder it is to have a fully connected social computer (O(n square)). But the internet has become an enabling platform for social computing. We have got Web2.0, community sites, collaborative efforts like folksonomies and wikipedia and so on. Group size seems to become a positive factor intead of a negative. A talk from a google scientist at Etech rectently explained that many of the seemingly "intelligent" results of google queries simply come from the huge database collected that brings out clear categories. Numbers not genius in other words.

Or take a look at "The wisdom of crowds" which shows some surprising results of people guessing things - even though I have the feeling that many things mentioned in this book are based on statistical artifacts.

Shirky clearly defines two reasons for the group-forming abilities of the Internet: Technology to communicate has become trivial. Trivial needs to be translated in this context as "accessible" to many: here comes everybody. Trivial technology becomes social ability according to Shirky.

The other reason is that by now one can from a group on the internet BEFORE tackling a specific topic. This is contrary to the situation before where one had to spend much up-front to create a community. Communities come cheap nowadays. So is there a role for computer science beyond mere enablement by building usable tools to communicate and form communities?

Stefan Bungart - towards human centric computing

He takes it beyond "user centered design" and claims that only organizations who understand "human centric computing" will survive. How do we define "HCC"? Perhaps by saying what it is NOT: bringing a workflow system (designed by IT) to a company. This is not about the color or position of buttons. This is about the employees having to live under the processes defined in the workflow system. Do they match what the employees need? Do they support or control? Most IT-supported processes in companies have turned into frustration engines, and not because of bad GUIs alone.

Requirements tracking software: The perverse hope that what can't be defined up front will disappear behind the legally safe storage capabilities of those systems: IT control instead of communication.

In his talk at the 10 year anniversary of our faculty (it is the last talk on the stream) Bungart gave a lot of positive examples as well: companies who let their customers participate in design and development of their products. Who form a community with their customers. Who are not afraid to run Web2.0 collaborative software open to their employees and their customers. (For some reasons he did not mention the political parties - they will be the last to embrace this type of thinking: they "represent" people instead of letting people participate in political decisions).

Why are organizations afraid of participation and the social computer?

Who is afraid of social intelligence?

Meinhard Prill recently made a wonderful documentary with the title "Ödnis im Rechteck" . It is about building new settlements in Munich. It shows how politicians, architects and construction companies try to avoid having people involved. Not even the (later) buyers have a say in the planned architectures. The results are devastatingly boring and dead settlements where basic principles of housing - like the separation of private and public - are violated. No social areas, no social rooms.

The film also shows an alternative: the "Wagnis Genossenschaft" - organized by private people - builds settlements where the buyers can decide how they want to live. There are social rooms and a cafe in the basement. The whole settlement brims with live. Does this cause problems? Of course there are discussions about the noise level, children damaging things and so on. But trying to avoid those is simply killing all chances for social interaction and therefore also social intelligence. (BTW: I have invited Meinhard Prill to come to us for a talk on one of our special "Days".)

Compare this with the new google buildings in Switzerland: Das neue Google-Office liegt im sogenannten Hürlimann-Areal, dem Gelände einer ehemaligen Brauerei in der Nähe der Züricher Innenstadt. Das 12.000 Quadratmeter große Gebäude ist auf Zuwachs gebaut. Es bietet Platz für bis zu 800 Mitarbeiter. Die zukünftigen Nutzer wurden in die Planung mit einbezogen. Entstanden ist ein sehr flexibles Layout, das schnelle Umzüge und Wechsel im Team ermöglicht. Im Durchschnitt zieht jeder Googler zweimal im Jahr um. Große offene Bereiche sollen es den Mitarbeitern ermöglichen, sich in informeller Atmosphäre zu treffen; viel Schnickschnack soll die Kreativität anregen. (jo/c't) . Few companies understand the role of architecture in creating ideas and productivity. Even fewer understand the role of IT in both areas.

At the end it is the fear of interacting people, of groups that drives politicians and organizations towards bad architectures. And IT plays a very ugly role in this game: IT is only used to make things easier - not for the people but for the organizations. Human centric IT would support group forming and help solve problems in those communities. Simply by automating things we do not solve the problems. At least not for the people.

I have recently written about the three phases of computer science: The first phase of naive adoption and fun up to the early eighties, the second phase to commercialization till the end of the millennium and the third phase as a tool for total control used by companies and states. The third phase shows a complete lack of participation for many people. Companies are more and more split in two parts: top management with immense incomes and the rest who gets less and less (except for pressure). Political parties follow this pattern with the lobbyists on top and the rest. IT "solutions" are usually rolled out to enforce and control, not to support and enable.

Human centric computing in its supporting role for communities and "social intelligence" might be the fourth phase of computer science and it seems to be tied tightly to the group-forming capabilities of the internet. From amazon review of Shirky's book: Every story in this book relies on the successful fusion of a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users. The sum of Shirky's incisive exploration, like the Web itself, is greater than its parts. (Mar.). Take a look at the latest ETECH presentations and notice the topics and who is there and who is missing: lots of google/yahoo/university etc., no Microsoft. The following is only a short quotes from the announcements .

  1. "Modeling Crowd Behavior, by Paul Torrens (Arizona State University) Ambient crowds are the new distributed computing platform. Smart mobs are fashioning new architectures for social networking. Armed with cell phones and mobile gaming devices, they are the new business model for location-based services. Seditious crowds are creating havoc in urban theaters of war and at global economic forums. Crowds of shoppers, endowed with smart chip credit cards and RFID tagged merchandise are trailed by long-lasting data shadows that follow them ubiquitously. Embedded in urban infrastructure ..."

  2. Your Phone is Your Controller: Collaborative Gaming in Public Spaces, by Jury Hahn (MegaPhone), Dan Albritton (MegaPhone). "MegaPhone makes digital signage interactive using a regular phone call. MegaPhone is a real-time collaborative gaming platform where anyone can use any phone to interact with a public display, using their phone as a controller. It is NOT a downloadable application that runs on your phone, and it is NOT a wireless network, like Wifi or Bluetooth. It is just a regular phone call. Anyone can participate by just calling a regular phone number, using any phone, on any service provider, in any country. Their input changes what happens on the display. There are two ways to send input to the display: keypad and voice. The keypad can be used much like a video game controller, and the volume of the phones microphone can also become input in the game. MegaPhone updates the game state on a big screen, or on multiple screens."

  3. Designing Magnets: Connecting with Audiences in the Wired Age, by Elan Lee (Fourth Wall Studios) "In the last few years, the entertainment industry has seen the birth of a new genre. An Alternate Reality Game is an interactive story that players explore with the tools of their lives. Narrative is delivered through real web sites (as seen in World Without Oil) instead of cinematics, players interact using their cell phones (as seen in I Love Bees) instead of joysticks, and rewards take the form of live events (as seen in Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero) instead of animated gold coins. This is not about watching heroes on TV, this is about being one."

  4. Users, Socializers, and Producers: How Internet Technologies are Changing Our View of Ourselves, by Elizabeth Churchill (Yahoo! Research) "Historically, information, internet and communication technology design has looked to human information processing models from cognitive psychology. Centered on the individual user who is making rational decisions based on available information, these models address only a small part of internet experience and behavior. We need generative social science models that help us understand how social context, physical setting, and aesthetics affect peoples intentions, their emotional orientation to technologies and to others and how these factors affect their information processing, their decision-making, and their actions. In this talk, Elizabeth Churchill will illustrate how both cognitive and social interaction theories underpinned the design of interactive community displays that were installed in a number of public places. Displays that reflected online social network activity into physical public places. While the underlying technology remained the same for each installation, social and cultural aspects of settings inspired the provision of different interactive interface elements and in turn led to a deeper understanding of the interplay between physical, social and individual factors in the design, adoption and adaptation of a social technology. Through description of this work, Churchill will illustrate how socially oriented experience and activity-based theories of interaction can further our understanding of interactive media sharing in physical and digital public places. She will end with discussion of how these grounding theories and principles are being drawn on to frame the emerging research area of media experience."

The future of Computer Science

The computer science of the future goes social, emotional, psychological. It is non-corporate but innovative. It is non-Microsoft (but google, yahoo, apple). It creates new ways of data analysis and visualization. It recognizes and enables social input, throughput, output. It is scary (alternate reality, genetics, diy). And it is ambient and mobile.

For information on collaboration get this talk by Howard Rheingold on collaboration (thanks Frank), one of the fathers of socially aware computer science and community research.

And last but not least: others seem to recognize the lack of participation and its negative effects on social intelligence as well: from the WIRED blog on Lawrence Lessigs talk at Etech "Lessig Calls for Geeks to Code Money Out of Politics". Lessig wants to use a community based approach to support candidates who are not lobbyists financially. And he wants to enable non-lobbyists to run as candidates against the current owners of congress seats. Interestingly he describes congress and US democracy as a system "completely rigged" and in dire need of participation. In other words: the social computer called western democracy has stopped working due to exclusion of participation for the masses.