Internet, collective intelligence and an individual’s destiny



There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks, between experts and enthusiasts of the Web, about a curious book by David Weinberger entitled The Smart Room. The book’s theory is that a new type of consciousness is beginning to establish itself, through the Web, which no longer belongs to individuals but to ‘machines’, to the network itself and to that immaterial room without walls that is the Web.

What is new is that the Web, viewed from this perspective, is not only a support and a repository for data, but it is an entity that is in some way thinking, feeding off the intelligence of individuals and overtaking it. An infinitely powerful collective super-brain, capable of encompassing endless fields and processing, through networking, all the information in an anonymous and superior intelligence.

In another post I already talked about the risk, reported by some, that the Internet is making us more stupid. Weinberger’s book apparently tells us quite the opposite. The network is far more intelligent than any one individual. It is a community made up of a multitude of anonymous people, interchangeable, each of whom discuss, debate and contribute a small piece to this limitless encyclopaedia.

A perspective that from certain points of view is fascinating and stimulating but which, as far as I am concerned, could give rise to certain fears. If we are destined to become increasingly more intelligent as a collective, what then is to become of single individuals, of their ingenuity and their capacity to reason and evaluate? What then, finally, will become of the privilege that each of us has to make a difference, to introduce an element of unpredictability into the order of things?

I am no expert in this subject, but every time I hear someone speak of the benefits of networking I cannot help but ask myself these questions and one more in particular: could it not be that “collective intelligence” might also mean “standardised intelligence”?