A new book entitled CO-INTELLIGENCE is due to come out next April. In it, Wharton management professor Ethan Mollick talks about developing partnerships between humans and artificial intelligence.
I heard about this thanks to an alert subscriber to my posts – and it startled me. I now find my reactions to this news generating tensions in a number of overlapping realms – history, ideology, worldwork, consistency, the metacrisis….:
Tension #1: I was disturbed to find that “co-intelligence” – the word I coined three decades ago and organized my life’s work around – is now being used – and spread – with a very different meaning than I’ve always intended. I fear this new use may endanger this remarkable word’s integrity and potential contribution to the world.
Tension #2: This new book applies this word to humanity’s relationship with AI – a realm about which I have serious concerns. On the other hand, it seems to be promoting an approach to AI that could exemplify my ideas about collaborative intelligence and also align with the related wise democracy pattern Partnership Culture.
Tension #3: Furthermore, my immediate desire to constrain this use of “co-intelligence” collides with my belief that a free flow – and co-evolution! – of ideas and information is vital for a healthy, co-intelligent culture.
So how, then, should I apply my moral and systemic understandings to this unprecedented situation in my world-work?
WHERE DID THE WORD “CO-INTELLIGENCE” COME FROM?
I coined the term “co-intelligence” in the early 1990s. (ChatGPT 3.5 can find no use of it prior to 1990.) Since then, I have written hundreds of thousands of words on the subject. I spent most of the ‘90s working on a book about it that never got published because
1. I bought together about a dozen friends to critique my draft manuscripts, an activity which turned into an evolving learning experience for all of us as well as many very different drafts… but never produced an actual final book… and….
2. The book project stalled when I set it aside early in 1998 to focus on the challenges and transformational opportunities of Y2K (see PS below).
Then in the early 2000s, Co-Intelligence Institute colleague Rosa Zubizarreta and I wove together materials from my website into what became the 2003 book THE TAO OF DEMOCRACY, which includes 40 pages about co-intelligence. But I never did publish a book specifically titled CO-INTELLIGENCE (other than 1997’s “First Little Book on Co-Intelligence” which was little more than a pamphlet distributed to a few dozen friends).
I now realize that failure was a major mistake. Had I published a substantial book on CO-INTELLIGENCE more than a decade ago, that would have helped to promote its original meaning, which is intelligence grounded in wholeness, interconnectedness and co-creativity (see also Six Manifestations of Co-Intelligence). When people Googled “co-intelligence”, that book would have come up near the top.
SO WE NEED THAT OVERDUE BOOK ON CO-INTELLIGENCE SOON
This issue has been growing increasingly important as more people mistakenly equate co-intelligence with “collective intelligence” (and occasionally with “collaborative intelligence”). Significantly and sadly, a search on Wikipedia for “co-intelligence” redirected me to the page on “collective intelligence”, despite my early efforts to make a clear distinction between these two important concepts. These errors are also rampant in Google’s search results, although the overwhelming number of explicit references to “co-intelligence” (hyphenated) link to my work – at least today. Who knows what such a search will produce in a few months. (Cointelligence without the hyphen seems to have been adopted by a crypto-currency training outfit, probably to play on the word “coin”, as in Bitcoin.)
Because of this increasingly cluttered and confused linguistic landscape, I think it is high time to get out a book describing my holistic version of co-intelligence, to make it more visible in conversations about these phenomena. I don’t want the AI association with co-intelligence to eclipse the original meaning the same way the term “collective intelligence” has done. We urgently need the co-intelligence I’ve been writing about!
This is especially true because merging collective and collaborative intelligence with AI will support the achievement of ALL goals – both good and bad – and expand the impact of any accident – including existential disasters. In contrast, my holistic version of co-intelligence, embracing as it does wisdom, wholeness, and long-term thinking, can moderate such dark potentials of collective partnerships with AI.
IS PARTNERSHIP WITH AI THE BEST RESPONSE TO ITS ADVENT?
As noted above, I have intense mixed feelings about AI. I think it offers many existing and potential benefits to humanity, from enhancing personal efficiency and pleasure to enhancing collective productivity and education. At the same time, AI is causing current harms, like promoting biases, driving professions into extinction, and violating the rights of writers and artists. At the same time, it opens the door for future catastrophes due to AI accidents or the actions of bad actors using AI’s considerable powers for destructive ends – as well as for more debatable yet dire prospects involving AI becoming conscious and harming us intentionally or as merely collateral damage from whatever it goals it decides to pursue (just as we impact ants and other creatures who happen to be in our way).
The idea of people partnering with AI is, I suspect, offered mostly to enhance AI’s advantages. But, as risk analyst Daniel Schmachtenberger makes abundantly clear, AI could most likely play its dominant role as an accelerator of the embedded systemic drivers of civilizational collapse – many of which, like GDP growth, are intimately tied to those drivers. (See my blog post on this.) Ironically, much of AI’s existential risk arises not from its use by “bad actors” as from its remarkable capacity to further all the seemingly “positive” deliverables that our civilization unwisely values (while ignoring the many “side effects” and “externalized harms”. So, while partnering with AI will enhance the capacities of those doing such partnering, wisdom calls us to attend to the broader, longer-term implications of which goals are being pursued by such partnerships.
On the other hand, now that key developments in AI are “out of the bag” (never to be stuffed back in again), perhaps we should be exploring what versions of collaboration with AI would actually help ameliorate its current problems and prospective existential risks. This presents a poignant predicament.
While the holistic version of co-intelligence offers no solutions to all this, it does offer us frameworks and methodologies to help us navigate that challenge, to say nothing of making the world a better place for Life to live in.
PS re Y2K: As part of my 1998 Y2K work, I put up my first website, co-intelligence.org. It contained a number of chapters from my unfinished co-intelligence book but rapidly evolved into the leading website on using Y2K for personal and social transformation. That Y2K website provided inspiration and materials for the 1998 publication of AWAKENING: THE UPSIDE OF Y2K edited by Larry Shook and Judy Laddon – which sold more than 10,000 copies in its first few months. Ironically, it remains highly relevant today, as scientists and thought leaders again disagree about implications of and approaches to the new existential threats faced by civilization. If you are curious, you can find THE UPSIDE OF Y2K freely available here.
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