Speaking of collective intelligence, I would like to begin by unraveling the concept and functioning of polymath. Does anyone have information to share in this regard?

Speaking of collective intelligence, I would like to begin by unraveling the concept and functioning of polymath. Does anyone have information to share in this regard?

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2 Answers

Thank you, Anders K—accurate answer, compelling questions.
I have been focusing on the last one in particular and tried to find other examples of collaborative practices entailing the deployment and activation of collective intelligence. Not so easy, indeed.
I wonder whether collectively created content repositories could provide a good example. If we take Wikipedia, for instance, would some of the criteria described above apply? Say that it generates from a massive collaborative effort with anyone in the world being invited to contribute, bringing in different knowledge and competences? Say that it produces “knowledge available to all members of a community” and “expands a community’s productive capacity because it frees individual members from the limitations of their memory and enables the group to act upon a broader range of expertise” [as Jenkins puts it when defining the concept of collective intelligence]?
In this case, there isn’t any specific problem to solve collaboratively, but rather knowledge itself becomes the shared target of the community’s productive capacity, and a collective process of knowledge production (and transmission)—setting in motion a form of collective intelligence which aims at the composition of an extensive and ever evolving encyclopaedia—takes place.
Of course, this raises a few questions—concerning, for instance, the nature and reliability of the knowledge produced, the level of expertise of those involved, or how the “community” reached and engaging with such a platform could be defined. Indeed, Wikipedia operates on a global scale, addressing a global community much vaster than any specific knowledge community—and this might be one of the major discrepancies when comparing this system to that of Polymath.
One last hint/consideration: I find curious that Mathieu suggested you to look into github, when you asked about which type of projects or problems would be suitable for a “massive” collaborative online effort—as, for what I have understood, this platform hosts several open-source communities and invites the visitors to join and start one’s own.
I was precisely considering a possible connection between collaborative projects like Polymath and those developed within open-source communities, where a collectivity is involved and an ‘ecology of collaboration’ takes place: there, source code often gets recycled and the method of exchange of code is based on reciprocity [Lovink & Scholz 2007], and it is thanks to this practice of recycling of material produced by others that software developers can progress in their work.
But I would like to gather other examples, and it would be compelling to hear more from Roxane, about those “treasure-hunt”-style campaigns she mentioned in the HTWW exhibition text, and presented during the trailer of HTWW last November at One Gee In Fog. Those make me think about the trans-media practices described above in the forum and seem to involve entire fandom communities, where each individual shares discoveries and information and thanks to mutual aid, everyone is finally able to solve the enigma.

Right?

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I think the question refers to an experiment begun in 2009, initiated by Cambridge professor Tim Gowers, and still active (https://polymathprojects.org) in research mathematics. This initiative is called polymath projects, which is a wordplay on the word polymath. The idea is to make a “massive” collaborative effort with anyone in the world being invited to contribute bringing in different knowledge and competences. A project consists of a  selection of an unsolved problem, sufficiently interesting but expected not to be too hard, and that some people think would be suitable for a collaborative effort. It takes the form of a blog from what I understand.

These efforts have had some successes and perhaps some set-backs and has received scepticism from some other leading mathematicians. One trouble that I think arise is that sometimes the main progress is made by a single person providing the crucial idea which leads to a quantum leap in progress. (Progress is not always continuous, maybe rarely so? comments?) It will then be less natural to incorporate it into the collaboration, also the individual person may want more credit for herself (this can be a matter of getting a good job, or an award giving money — so it is not a superficial concern).

Some polymath projects have been successful, this is not surprising since it involved a large effort, so it does not necessarily mean that polymath projects is a good approach. One should, like an economist, when evaluating its benefits, ask about the alternatives? Maybe other approaches are more efficient, maybe it depends on the problem, can one identify suitable problems in advance?

Are there other examples of such collaborations in other domains?

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