Friday, June 02, 2006

Hive mind

At their best, wikis can be a tool for the collaborative construction of knowledge, but they are also open to sabotage and misinformation. In this article Jaron Lanier outlines the shortcomings of online collectivism. It’s called Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism and is well worth a read. Here’s his conclusion:

“Some wikitopians explicitly hope to see education subsumed by wikis. It is at least possible that in the fairly near future enough communication and education will take place through anonymous Internet aggregation that we could become vulnerable to a sudden dangerous empowering of the hive mind. History has shown us again and again that a hive mind is a cruel idiot when it runs on autopilot. Nasty hive mind outbursts have been flavored Maoist, Fascist, and religious, and these are only a small sampling. I don't see why there couldn't be future social disasters that appear suddenly under the cover of technological utopianism. If wikis are to gain any more influence they ought to be improved by mechanisms like the ones that have worked tolerably well in the pre-Internet world.

The hive mind should be thought of as a tool. Empowering the collective does not empower individuals — just the reverse is true. There can be useful feedback loops set up between individuals and the hive mind, but the hive mind is too chaotic to be fed back into itself.”

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