The Superorganism, Superorganization, and The Global Brain
By Jeff Sayre
I finally had time this morning to read Gideon Rosenblatt’s latest thought piece, Are Organizations Alive? A Different Take on the Evolution of Technology on his The Vital Edge blog.
It is another wonderful piece and an excellent read. It is not long, so please read it before continuing with my post.
So as not to thread jack his post announcing his article, I’ve written this post as my ideas might be considered tangential to his concept. But I believe they are actually a different way to approach the same issue.
Science (biology specifically) has very salient definitions of what determines if an entity is a life form, of what it means to be alive. From a purely scientific definition, an organization, an entity that is basically an artificial construct defined and made possible by laws created by humans, will never be considered a living object.
This basic definition of life, one that is at the center and foundation of modern biology, cannot offer support for Gideon’s premise. However, by moving up one level of system abstraction to the field of ecology, there are theories and observations that can be used to realign his basic premise offering solid support for his idea.
Organizations are artificial systems that leverage collective intelligence to accomplish a specific set of goals. As organizations deploy technology into and integrate technology from the Internet’s rising mesh network, these seemingly disparate conglomerates of collective intelligence (collectives) will become a self-assembling and self-organized connective made possible by the AI systems within the evolving global mesh network itself. In other words, collective intelligence will be augmented and transformed by connective intelligence. Collective intelligence will eventually merge with connective intelligence.
What does this mean?
Each organization can be viewed as a single complex adaptive system (CAS). The theory of complexity has been studied in many fields with ecology perhaps offering the most salient examples. I wrote a post on this issue a few years back. If you want to learn more about complexity, I encourage you to read my piece, The Ecosphere And the Economy.
Via the revolutionary and evolutionary advantages offered to organizations that plug into the Connective, the single complex adaptive systems that neatly define (and compartmentalize) each organization will transform into a human-machine augmented nested complex adaptive system. This is where Gideon’s premise takes flight, in my opinion.
In biology and ecology a superorganism is a collection of the same or similar organisms that are connected in a functional unit all working to accomplish the same set of goals. Whereas I’ve purposefully distilled the concept down to this simple definition, it is sufficient to elucidate the bigger picture.
Gideon’s idea deals with organizations, and not organisms. I propose that we adopt the meaning and concept of ecological superorganism and apply it to the organizational connective discussed above. I propose that we call this the Superorganization.
At its foundation, the Superorganization can be considered a natural outgrowth of the ecosphere. It is a manifestation of the collective energies and connective intelligence of the currently dominant life forms on Earth (okay, perhaps microorganisms deserve that title). As such, the Superorganization will become an integral part of our life support system. It may not be alive in a classical scientific definition, but it is alive via some of the subsystems that build, protect, and grow it.
The Superorganization is an artificial construct made possible by the larger superorganism that is Earth (see, Gaia theory).
Moving Beyond The Superorganization — The Global Brain
The organizational connective, the Superorganization, will be an artificial nested complex adaptive system (i.e., created by humans and machines). It will help support, transform, nurture, and even challenge (not necessarily in positive ways) the living (biological based) systems of our ecosphere (Gaia).
Once the Superorganization blinks into existence, parts of humanity will merge with it, becoming co-dependent on this higher-level organizational connective. I talk about this concept in my piece, The Emerging Global Brain and the Internet’s Future.
If you are interested in learning more about the ecological and sociological concept of superorganism, you cannot do any better than reading E. O. Wilson’s and Bert Hölldobler’s seminal work on this topic, The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies.
Also here are a few of my thought pieces on the future of humanity that fit within the interest graph of this topic: