Book Reviews

Geoff Mulgan: Big Mind [Book Review]

Geoff Mulgan’s Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World (Princeton University Press, 2018) is a thoughtful, quasi-philosophical book on a topic where “the stakes could not be higher. Progressing collective intelligence is in many ways humanity’s grandest challenge since there’s little prospect of solving the other grand challenges of climate, health, prosperity, or war without progress in how we think and act together.”

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Geoff Mulgan Big Mind

Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World by Geoff Mulgan

Collective intelligence requires a diversity of elements and capabilities: a live model of the world, observation, focus, memory, empathy, motor coordination, creativity, judgment, and wisdom. It is supported by infrastructures, such as networks. A general theory of collective intelligence also needs to address the dimensionality of choices—not only the number of variables involved but “cognitive dimensionality (how many different ways of thinking, disciplines, or models are necessary to understand the choice), its social dimensionality (how many people or organizations have some power or influence over the decision, and how much are they in conflict with each other), and its temporal dimensionality (how long are the feedback loops).” And this is just the beginning. The lists and requirements keep multiplying. Collective intelligence is complicated.

Mulgan analyzes how collective intelligence (though, in practice, all too often collective stupidity) functions in everyday life—in meetings, in cities and governments, in economies and firms, in universities.

Big Mind is a call to action, even though the author admits that there’s no single path to success. Because of this, we need to nurture people with skills in “intelligence design.”