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Collectively unintelligent?

Apr 26,2018
LEE HYUN-SANG
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Goldcorp, a gold production company headquartered in Vancouver, struggled to survive in 2000 as it could not find a new vein of gold in Canada. But founder Rob McEwen had an idea after attending a lecture on Linux, an open-source software operating system. He staged an idea contest after making public all the secret geological information on the company-owned Red Lake mine in Ontario. After he offered a $570,000 prize, people interested in the mission — geological specialists, graduate students and mathematicians around the world — discovered as many as 110 possible gold veins by using all available means, including mathematics, physics, artificial intelligence and computer graphics. His embattled company went on to become the second largest gold mine after discovering 220 tons of gold.

So-called collective intelligence should be smarter than any individual. Its power is getting ever-stronger thanks to the Internet. But collective intelligence is susceptible to contamination. A research team at ETH Zurich in Switzerland presented its students with several questions, including “How many homicides take place in Zurich?” For some questions, the team allowed students to refer to other students’ answers, and for other questions, the team asked students to find the answer on their own. In first instance, the answers often overlapped, and respondents were more convinced that they were correct. But the answers in the second case were more likely to be correct.

Experts believe it is important for people to express their own ideas in an independent way. Otherwise, collective intelligence can easily fall into the trap of a collective fallacy. A common feature of extremism and fundamentalism is collective thinking.

The Moon Jae-in administration and the ruling party underscore the importance of collective intelligence more than any other previous administration. They regard the massive candlelight vigils as a manifestation of collective intelligence and brought in experts on collective intelligence after establishing a “collective intelligence center” in their campaign headquarters before the last presidential election. After taking power, they even created a Blue House web page devoted to collecting public petitions, not to mention putting whether to shut down nuclear power plants to a vote.

Despite many controversies over the decision, some people appreciated it for being a fresh idea. But the government doesn’t seem to care whether collective intelligence is always healthy. They don’t seem to care that cyberspace is polluted with division and collective hatred. If they continue to portray the posting of pro-government messages under the former administration as “manipulation of public opinion,” while brushing off the public opinion rigging campaign involving a ruling party lawmaker and aide to President Moon, we can hardly expect genuine collective intelligence online.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 23, Page 31