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Singularity Watch: The Group Mind

First posted: blogcritics 10/5/2010

For those of you just joining us, let me introduce you to the guru of The Singularity movement. Ray Kurzweil is a transhumanist and proud of it. Equal parts genius and huckster, he’s got a website that acts as a clearing house for all things Singularity as well as a platform to sell his brand of life-lengthening drugs and paraphernalia. I admire this guy; he’s done some amazing things with his genius. I took the health survey at his website and wound up with a recommendation to take fish pills to alleviate my morning stiffness. So I started taking them. Guess what?  They worked.

I have respect for the man even though I’m cynical when it comes to transhumanism. I read his site regularly. Here’s an interesting item, the site posted last Friday:

Collective Intelligence in Small Teams

Why does a site about the Singularity have information about collective intelligence? I suspect it has to do with where the Singularity is taking us. Maybe one day we’ll have a group mind. One day, all knowledge will be held by every single person on the planet simultaneously. If they’ve subscribed, that is. I can’t begin to fathom what a subscription to the collective intelligence would be like. Or maybe I can. Isn’t that what the Internet is?

At any rate, the take away from the article linked above is the fact that effective organizations are those that include women. This is not earth shaking news. It has been known for a long time that women excel at cooperating. Sharing, teamwork, and communication seem to come naturally to the girls. There are shades of behavior in either gender, certainly, but it is generally accepted that women are good in groups.

Trying to figure out why that would be, I’d have to say that it’s because women, in general, are more likely to volunteer time without immediate compensation. If there’s one thing any organization needs, it’s people going above and beyond the call. This is true in for-profit concerns as well. These days in the corporate world employees are expected to work longer hours without compensation. Apparently companies can’t turn a profit without a certain amount of volunteer effort.

Back to the original interesting idea. I don’t know if all that about groups with women excelling is true, but I can share observations from my experience with two volunteer groups run by women. I have no idea if they are more efficient or effective than similar groups run mostly by men.  Both of the groups I have experience with are non-hierarchical. They aren’t run on the President/VP/Secretary/Treasurer model. Supposedly this is a characteristic of woman’s natural organizational model. One thing I can say for sure, the effectiveness of each organization is dependent, not on a group effort, but on a few truly stellar workers, people that are putting in a lot of time and energy. If these personalities were not involved in the group, the group would flounder. Now  maybe in a woman’s group there’s more of a chance that someone will step up to give of themselves without immediate payback. Perhaps if a stellar worker in a key position leaves, the vacancy is more quickly filled than it would be in a male-dominated group. Or, maybe women’s personalities are more flexible. Women can rise to any occasion, but men can only rise if they were born to it.

Dunno. Just pondering here. And starting to ponder about how generalizing can get you into deep you know what. But it is fun, isn’t it?

More interesting than pondering that, though, is pondering whether or not our group mind, i.e. the Internet, will push us to become more cooperative, less individualistic out in the real world. Less competitive. Will this Internet push us toward the non-hierarchical model of social organization that the old matriarchies favored?

Very curious this Singularity, this Internet.

Sue Lange

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