Distributed Cognition and the Wisdom of Crowds

Other useful models have started from analyses of collaborative working in practical situations. The cognitive scientist, Edwin Hutchins, looked at the processes that took place when naval crews navigated a ship [Hutchins, 1995]. He later looked at flight crews piloting aeroplanes and developed a model of distributed cognition that could also include non-human intelligence, such as the autopilot in an aeroplane, for instance. How some of the principles demonstrated in examples like this could be adapted to help create spaces and environments to facilitate collaborative thinking, was one of the areas the project was involved with developments in – described in Systems to Support Collective Thinking.

A number of studies have analysed how collective thinking operates and how it can generate more successful results than even experts. The book, The Wisdom of Crowds [Surowiecki, 2004], gives many examples of this principle at work, in cases from guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar, to trying to locate a missing submarine. The Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT (cci.mit.edu) has carried out experiments to test this out in a number of areas, such as in using crowd sourcing to help develop models to tackle climate change. Linked to its work on environments to facilitate collaborative thinking, the project has also begun to explore some of these techniques.


Edwin Hutchins. Cognition in the Wild, 1995

James Surowiecki. The Wisdom of Crowds, 2004