Notes for Pierre Lévy Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace

Key concepts: collective intelligence, cosmopedia, cyberspace, hominization, knowledge space, molecular democracy, network culture, over-language, telematics.

Related theorists: Roberto Busa, Manuel Castells, Gilles Deleuze, Douglas Engelbart, Felix Guattari, Henry Jenkins, J.C.R. Liclider, Marshall McLuhan.


Eugene F. Provenzo, Jr.

Claim by Provenzo in foreword that the translation introduces to American readers the most imaginative continental thinker about Internet era computers and their social impact.

(vii) The following translation (from its original French) by Robert Bononno brings to the attention of American and English-speaking readers one of the Continent's most imaginative thinkers about computers and their impact on society and culture.

Synaptogenesis to nomadic culture.

(viii) For Lévy, the computer, and its associated communication technologies, is creating a “nomadic” culture in which cognitive prostheses “are transforming our intellectual capabilities as clearly as the mutations of our genetic heritage.” (p.5)

Engelbart significance for computer making possible collective intelligence through augmenting intellect that McLuhan suggested.

(viii) Even more important for Lévy, the computer makes possible a shared or collective intelligence. This idea is not new, having been suggested in the 1960s by the communication theorist and popular culture figure, Marshall McLuhan, who suggested that communication technologies were in the process of creating a global village, as well as by the computing pioneer, Douglas Engelbart. Engelbart's significance as a thinker and innovator has only bugen to be widely recognized in recent years. In fact, many of the arguments Lévy makes in Collective Intelligence echo ideas developed by Engelbart. In the early 1960s, for example, Engelbart argued that computers were not simply efficiency and productivity tools, but could actually be used to “augment intellect.”

Engelbart current work similar to collective intelligence, though from engineering and business tradition, whereas Levy in critical tradition.

(viii-ix) Engelbart's current work on “Collaboration,” “Knowledge Management,” “Virtual Teaming,” and “Continuous Improvement and Learning,” as part of the Bootstrap Institute suggests similar lines of thought to those of Lévy and his concept of “collective intelligence.”
(ix) Engelbart is coming from an engineering and business tradition. . . . Although actively engaged in the development of innovative software, his work is more consciously grounded in social, economic, and political structures.

Emergence of knowledge space.

(ix) As he explains, the knowledge space that is being formed today will almost certainly “take precedence over the spaces of earth, territory, and commerce that preceded it.” (p. 13)

Cosmopedia is name for new knowledge space, large patchwork dematerializing artificial boundaries.

(ix) Lévy refers to this new knowledge space as the cosmopedia.

Compare cosmopedia to Busa anti-Babel and Hayles Big Humanities.

(x) For Lévy, the cosmopedia dematerializes the artificial boundaries between disciplines, making knowledge “a large patchwork” in which virtually any field can be folded onto another. The power of disciplinary knowledge is dissolved. A shared discourse and collective intelligence now becomes possible.

Utopian tract of computer era.

(x) Lévy's book is essentially a utopian tract—arguably the first full-scale utopian text of the computer era. . . . While Engelbart suggests utopian possibilities, Lévy's work outlines a full-blown utopian system based on the new models of computing that individual such as Engelbart have been creating over the course of the last generation.
(x) He sees the computerization of society as having the potential to “promote the construction of intelligent communities in which our social and cognitive potential can be mutually developed and enhanced.” (p. 17)

Unbiased democratic cyberspace.

(x-xi) He believes that the computer can, through technologies such as “knowledge trees,” provide us a means by which to share knowledge with others and meet them in a largely unbiased and democratic cyberspace. Lévy's “collective intelligence” is a “universally distributed intelligence.” He believes that “no one knows everything, everyone knows something, all knowledge resides in humanity.” (p. 20)

Pass from individual Cartesian cogito to collective cogitamus for postmodern computer based society.

(xi) He argues that we are passing from a Cartesian model of thought based upon the singular idea of cogito (I think) to a collective or plural cogitamus (we think).
(xi) I think that we can see the possibilities for the emergence of a new model of humanity and culture emerging in our post-modern and computer-based society. Pierre
Lévy provides us with a map of this new intellectual and social terrain. . . . It will be interesting to see if its reality is as positive a vision as he hopes.

Spectator position of Foreword predicts book will infuriate programmers and technicians who have failed to grasp cultural and social significance of computing.

Levy contribution is to counter default philosophies of computing, although reach to call it a blueprint since it lacks technical content.

(xi-xii) I am convinced that this book will infuriate many people—particularly those programmers and technicians who dominate the computer field and who have failed to grasp the cultural and social significance of computing. Lévy's contribution in Collective Intelligence is to provide an intriguing blueprint for how the computer and its associated technologies can expand our intelligence and humanity.

The Nomad Planet

Evolving new media of communication.

(xx) The process of evolution now at work is converging toward the creation of a new medium of communication, thought, and work for human societies.

Development of telematic network culture from pioneers in sixties to Internet as symbol of cyberspace; technogenesis.

(xx) Beginning in the sixties, pioneers such as D. Engelbart and J.C.R. Liclider had perceived the social potential of computer-mediated communication. But it wasn't until the start of the eighties that digitized communication—or telematics—emerged as an economic and cultural phenomenon in its own right.
(xx) An internetwork based on the “anarchic” cooperation of thousands of computer facilities throughout the world, the Internet has become the symbol of that heterogeneous and cross-border medium that we refer to as cyberspace.

Network culture still in infancy and its guiding course of events can be influenced so it does not become mere TV deluxe like in WALL-E, along with domineering Master Control.

(xxi) Network culture has not yet stabilized, its technical infrastructure is still in its infancy, its growth far from complete. It is still not too late to work together and attempt to alter the course of events. There is still room within this new space for other ways of doing things. Will the information highway and multimedia end up as a kind of “TV deluxe?”. . . If, however, we recognize the importance of the stakes involved in due time, these new means of creation and communication could also profoundly reshape the structure of the social bond in the direction of a greater sense of community and help us resolve the problems currently facing humanity.

Shape but not determine.

(xxi-xxii) The shape and content of cyberspace are still partly undetermined. . . . Whether we want them to or not, technical decisions, the adoption of standards, regulations, and tariff policies will help shape the social infrastructure of sensibility, intelligence, and coordination that will lay the foundation for the global civilization of tomorrow.

Nomads again like when print became widespread.

(xxii) The development of new instruments of communication has accelerated and in a sense transcended the large-scale process of mutation taking place. We have again become nomads.

New movements instantiating Deleuze and Guattari schizo against obstacle of endless race within commodity networks; immigrants of subjectivity.

(xxii-xxiii) The final obstacle to the voyage may be the endless race within existing commodity networks. Movement no longer means traveling from point to point on the surface of the globe, but crossing universes of problems, lived worlds, landscapes of meaning. . . . We have become immigrants of subjectivity.

Synaptogenesis to another humanity we refuse to interrogate; Levy calls it hominization.

(xxiii) Rather, we are moving from one humanity to another, a humanity that not only remains obscure and indeterminate, but that we refuse to interrogate, that we are still unwilling to acknowledge.
(xxiv) In short, hominization, the process of the emergence of the human species, is not over. In fact it seems to be sharply accelerating.

Other forms of collective will like bureaucratic hierarchies, media monarchies, international economic networks inadequate; must reinvent molecular democracy.

Against entrusting destiny to intlligent mechanism like WALL-E future.

(xxiv-xxv) Bureaucratic hierarchies (based on static forms of writing), media monarchies (surfing the television and media systems), and international economic networks (based on the telephone and real-time technologies) can only partially mobilize and coordinate the intelligence, experience, skills, wisdom, and imagination of humanity. For this reason the development of new ways of thinking and negotiating engendered by the growth of genuine forms of collective intelligence becomes particularly urgent. . . . There is no reason to belabor this point, however, for we can't reinvent the instruments of communication and collective thought without reinventing democracy, a distributed, active, molecular democracy. . . . Not by placing its destiny in the hands of some so-called intelligent mechanism, but by systematically producing the tools that will enable it to shape itself into intelligent communities, capable of negotiating the stormy seas of change.

Errant, from the future rather than historical time; compare to Castells.

(xxv) We are no longer in historical time, with its references to writing, the city, the past, but within a moving and paradoxical space that comes to us from the future. . . . Time now is errant, oblique, plural, indeterminate, like that which precedes all origins.


(xxvi) Humankind and animal together, increasingly indistinguishable from our tools and from a world tightly bound to our advance.

On threshold of dumbest generation or new human attribute fostering letting-go to alter identity.

(xxvi-xxvii) Either we cross a new threshold, enter a new stage of hominization, by investing some human attribute that is as essential as language but operates at a much higher level, or we continue to “communicate” through the media and think within the context of separate institutions, which contribute to the suffocation and division of intelligence. In the latter case we will no longer be confronted only by problems of power and survival. But if we are committed to the process of collective intelligence, we will gradually create the technologies, sign systems, forms of social organization and regulation that enable us to think as a group, concentrate our intellectual and spiritual forces, and negotiate practical real-time solutions to the complex problems we must inevitably confront. . . . Collective intelligence is less concerned with the self-control of human communities than with a fundamental letting-go that is capable of altering our very notion of identity and the mechanisms of domination and conflict, lifting restrictions on heretofore banned communications, and effecting the mutual liberation of isolated thoughts.

Do not know what we are creating, like at dawn of signification; could be dreaming in code.

(xxvii) We don't know what we are supposed to create, although we may have already begun to sketch its outline obscurely. Over the course of several millennia, however, Homo habilis became sapiens, crossed a similar threshold, went forth into the unknown, invented the earth, the gods, and the infinite world of signification.

Inventing something beyond writing and language to naturally integrate information processing; could be dreaming in code.

Over-language of Heideggerian multitude.

(xxviii) The problem faced by collective intelligence is that of discovering our inventing something beyond writing, beyond language, so that the processing of information can be universally distributed and coordinated, no longer the privilege of social organisms but naturally integrated into all human activities, our common property. . . . To have a chance for a better life, we must become collectively intelligent. Transcending the media, airborne machines will announce the voice of the many. Still indiscernible, cloaked in the mists of the future, bathing another humanity in its murmuring, we have a rendezvous with the over-language.


What is Collective Intelligence?

Collective intelligence is universally distributed and coordinated in real time, constantly enhanced, effectively mobilizing skills.

(13) It is a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills. . . . The basis and goal of collective intelligence is the mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the cult of fetishized or hypostatized communities.

New humanisms incorporating group knowledge and collective thought.

(17-18) This project implies a new humanism that incorporates and enlarges the scope of self knowledge into a form of group knowledge and collective thought. . . . We pass from the Cartesian cogito to cogitamus. Far from merging individual intelligence into some indistinguishable magma, collective intelligence is a process of growth, differentiaion, and the mutual revival of singularities. The shifting image that emerges from such skills and projects, and from the relations among members in the knowledge space, constitutes, for a community, a new mode of identification, one that is open, dynamic, positive.

Knowledge space a cartography, conceptual toolbox rather than historical narrative; the inhuman component as cyberspace is what affords epistemological transparency as the diachrony in synchrony model.

(18-19) While the linearity of text occasionally requires us to present ideas in chronological order, “The Knowledge Space” can be seen as a type of cartography, a conceptual toolbox, a portable guide to anthropological mutation rather than a history.


Territory: The Book

Commodity Space: Hypertext

Hypertext belongs to commodity space technoscience, where science and media echo one another, leaving experiment and theory in the dust.

(212) In the commodity space the subject of knowledge is the military-industrial-media-university complex, generally referred to as technoscience. Far from remaining the guardian of a restricted temple, technoscience is an engine that pulls along with it the accelerated, chaotic evolution of contemporary societies.
(214) Science and the media echo one another, interpenetrate, help inflate the sphere of untethered signs. . . . Computer-mediated scenarios about the origin of the universe, nuclear war, the hole in the ozone layer, or global economy multiply. They are the result of a fast-moving computer-aided imagination that leaves the figures of ordinary epistemology in the dust. Experiment and theory, though nostalgic, stare at one another like porcelain bookends lying among the territory's abandoned paradigms.

The Knowledge Space: Cosmopedia

Knowledge space cosmopedia, epistemology leads back to ontology.

(214-215) The knowledge of a thinking community is no longer a shared knowledge for it is now impossible for a single human being, or even a group of people, to muster all knowledge, all skills. It is a fundamentally collective knowledge, impossible to gather together into a single creature.
(215) In contrast to Kant's critique, the perspective opened by the collective intellect shows that epistemology ultimately leads us back to ontology. There are as many qualities as there are ways of knowledge.

Encyclopedia as circle of knowledge, indefinite referral, cosmopedia the new organization based on dynamic and interactive multidimensional representational space made possible by computer technology.

Cosmopedia contains all semiotics and types of representation, multiplying nondiscursive utterances including programming.

(215) The process of joining the line (making it circular) connotes the operation of indefinite referral characteristic of the encyclopedia.
(216) Michel Authier and I refer to the new organization of knowledge in this fourth space as the
cosmopedia. It is based largely on the possibilities made accessible to us through computer technology for the representation and dynamic management of knowledge. Why do we say that the sum of knowledge is now organized by the cosmos and not the circle? Because instead of a one-dimensional text or even a hypertext network, we now have a dynamic and interactive multidimensional representational space. . . . At its extreme the cosmopedia contains as many semiotics and types of representation as exist in the world itself. The cosmopedia multiplies nondiscursive utterances.

Characteristic nonseparation dematerializing boundaries between types of knowledge as overlapping patchwork, dynamic topology in place of discrete hierarchized territorial space and chaotic fragmented commodity space; compare to Floridi cyberspace definition.

(217) The characteristic principle of the cosmopedia, and that which makes it worthwhile, is its non-separation. For collective intellects, knowledge is a continuum, a large patchwork quilt in which each point can be folded over on any other. The cosmopedia dematerializes the boundaries between different types of knowledge. . . . In place of the fixed organization of knowledge into discrete and hierarchical disciplines (typical of territorial space)–or the chaotic fragmentation of information and data (typical of the commodity space)–there now exists an unbroken, dynamic topology.

Inscription and consultation as surgery and massage of cosmopedia.

(218) The cosmopedia is a relativistic space, which curves when we read or write in it. Inscription is a form of surgery (cutting, sewing, grafting, discontinuous operations in general). Consultation, however, is a way of massaging or folding space (inflection, continuous operations).

Moving form of image implies contextual details previously requiring many words.

(218) The continuous space of proximities that shapes the cosmopedia implies, in its dynamic structure, the relationships, links, and connections among utterances. The situation, context, assumptions, and conclusions of a proposition no longer need to be made explicit in speech since they are implied in the moving form of the image.

Simplification resulting from reducing of expository text due to inclusion of relational information in structure of cosmopedic space in self organized plane of immanence.

(218-219) The collective intellect shapes, molds, smooths, and sculpts the image of its knowledge and its world rather than translating it discursively. Simplification is the result of the considerable reduction of the importance of text in the exposition of knowledge, which results from the inclusion of relational information in the very structure of “cosmopedic space.” . . . In the first place, it is the knowledge space itself that is dynamically mapped and not simply a part of the universe of reference for a given community. Second, the simplification does not result from the projection of a system of transcendent coordinates but of self-organization in the plane of immanence.

Swimming metaphor fits with Berry, but modifies the structure of the shared space.

(219-220) Once within, the member of the collective intellect swims around (navigates, consults, questions, inscribes, etc.), then leaves. Memory of the digital waters: His swimming has modified the structure of shared space as well as the shape and position of its image in the cosmopedia (his personal navigator).

The Philosophy of Implication

The object constructs the subject, world of collective intellect is the world that thinks in it.

(221) In the knowledge space the object constructs the subject. Once again, the object here is the perpetual renewal of the becoming of the collective intellect and its world. It is as if the subject were fabricated by the subject. As for the world, it is no longer an “objective” world, but the world of the collective intellect, the world that thinks in it.

Subjects constitute objects in knowledge space through implication, secreting its world.

Compare piled up subjectivities to additive software development through many revisions; consider dreaming in code.

(221-222) By the same movement objects in the knowledge space are constituted by their collective subjects. Here, the subject no longer constructs its object transcendentally from above, as something external, capturing it in a filter or on a grid, but through implication. The collective intellect aggregates its practices, hopes, interests, and negotiations, deposits its living outbursts of energy, sediments its subjective becomings, concretizes its affects, and, having done so, secretes its world. . . . The object implies subjectivities that are piled up, pressed, massaged, and continuously added to. Consequently, to know something, to be implicated in an object, means that we give it existence.

Molecular versus molar subjectivization, self movement of becoming expressed as ontological and conceptual productivity, of which programming plays a substantial role.

(222) Hegel described the molar becoming of a total subject. Collective intellects encourage processes of molecular, bifurcating subjectivization. In the Hegelian system becoming is the self-movement of the concept. In the context of collective intellects, the self-movement of becoming expresses itself through ontological and conceptual productivity.

Lévy, Pierre. Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace. Trans. Robert Bononno. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books, 1997. Print.