Diversity Sustains collective intelligence

(Les Di@logues Stratégiques® N°24 - 01/02)

Pierre Lévy in the book entitled "L'intelligence collective": "While we increasingly care about avoiding economic or ecological wasting, it seems that we forget cheerfully the most precious resource by refusing to take it into account, to develop it and to use it wherever it may be"
A philosopher, a professor at the
Trois-Rivières University in Quebec, the author of many essays, including "World Philosophie" and "Cyberculture", Pierre Lévy has spent a great part of his professional life in analysing digital technologies' cultural implications.

Véronique Anger: In "L'intelligence collective", you write: "Nobody knows everything, everybody knows something(…). The light of reason shines everywhere, even in things that are said to be without intelligence." Do you still think today that intelligence is ' wasted'? Shouldn't the corporate development of knowledge management contribute actively to the creation of a collective intelligence-based plan? ?
Pierre Lévy:
I think that some abilities, great intellects, creativity, imagination, knowledge and know-how… are too much ignored. These resources are not enough developed, or exploited. If it is partly due to unemployment, labour organization in France or in many other countries contributes towards this "wasting".
The "KM(1)" and any other trends regarding many-faceted companies as cognitive systems or "learning" societies are going in the right direction. Any action that promotes diversity and develops social links through the sharing of knowledge sustains collective intelligence.
A third of the problem is linked to the optimal use of digital technologies specialized in registering knowledge and know-how and in promoting teamwork...
A second third concerns human beings' personal skills, such as know-how, knowledge and mannerliness.
Finally, the last third -but not least- regards social climate. Depending on collective responsibility, it will favour or harm mutual confidence. To be efficient, cooperation needs a climate of mutual confidence. This principle can be applied to companies and to your relations with partners, customers and suppliers… This ethical or relational dimension is probably managers' main responsibility. Managers must set an example.
The culture of collective intelligence cannot be ordered. All hierarchic levels must share it.

VA: Do you share the point of view of Marc Guillaume, a sociologist, when he says: "Access to information must not be confused with access to knowledge. Information is not knowledge."?
It is obvious that no information, no event can be well understood when taken out of context. Indeed, information improves your knowledge (knowledge is a process, an action…) but if you haven't got any knowledge, information is nonsense since you are unable to interpret it. The relation between information and knowledge is dialectic.
But you have to keep in mind that human progress is largely due to the progress in communication techniques. It is easier to improve your knowledge when you have access to a larger quantity of information. For example, without the invention of printing, you probably would have never known progress in modern sciences or public opinion. The printing industry has revolutionized access to information, making it open to everybody through newspapers, magazines and books … I think that the creation of cyberspace can be compared with the invention of printing. It is just the next step …

VA: Bergson differentiates between intelligence (instantaneous phenomenon) and intuition (moving process). How intuition can play a role in a network of collective intelligence, and can it be shared?
According Bergson, intelligence is opposed to intuition since it is totally rational and sequential, while I define collective intelligence as a cognitive ability, in the broad sense of the term (including memory, perception, reasoning, imagination, prediction and above all learning capacity). As a consequence, intelligence must not be limited to the geometric mind of Pascal or to the determined structural mind of Bergson.
Intelligence is a complex process that gives sense to its context and changes. In such a context, the moving dimension, learning and autonomy have a key role.

VA: In "World Philosophie", you put forward the idea of an emerging global consciousness in cyberspace. How could it be expressed?
Before explaining how global consciousness can be fully expressed, let's see how it shows itself today.
I live in the country, in a small Canadian town that is called "Trois-Rivières". I can only read local and Quebec newspapers. But if I want to know what's going on a world scale, I just have to connect me to the websites of the following newspapers: Le Monde, Libération, New-York Times, Washington Post or any other Asian or Middle-Eastern newspapers. Thanks to the Internet and discussion groups to which I participate, I have access to a large quantity of information and to extremely various points of view.
Before the Internet, we were not used to talking with people from different cultural environments. This global consciousness is subsequent to the proximity of these cultural differences (through the Internet).
How will this global consciousness express itself? I don't know, even though I've observed that certain big problems (such as global warming and other environmental problems, biotechnologies and medical research, the Internet …) concern the world as a whole.
More and more palpable, this environmental, technological and, obviously, economic unity seems to lead to a political unity. The famous anti-globalisation movement is probably one of the first political movements which is no longer "international" but simply global. The movement highly depends on the Internet, which has opened a global, universal public space.

VA: "Cyberdémocratie", your next book, has just been issued. May you present us its outline, please?
In the first part, entitled "Enquête et analyse" (or "Inquiry and analysis" in English), I try to explain the impacts of the Internet on public space. I try to understand the evolution of the media sphere, of freedom of expression and of communication between individuals. I do my best to describe a movement that is likely to make society more transparent.
Besides, I study Internet-linked political changes: "e-government", public service, digital voting, local democracy, expression and coordination of social movements…
In the second part of my book, more prospective and utopian, I imagine what might be a society in which cyberspace would be the common means of communication (with an optimal use of NTICs). I describe a possible organization of the future State, i.e. a "transparent State" whose functions and all types of information would be at your disposal on the Internet. Its three main missions would deal with justice, market regulations and biotechnologies (i.e. public health/environmental issues, and "modified organisms"). The creation of a global government that respects and totally encourages cultural diversity involves separating society from State, as it has already be done with religion, ethnical belonging, political parties, …
For the future, I think, indeed, that a government's main function will not consist in "managing society" but in stimulating citizens' collective intelligence by setting a good example.

For further information: "Cyberdémocratie" by Pierre Lévy : http://www.odilejacob.fr/indexcyber.asp