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Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace (Helix Books) Paperback – December 10, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Pierre Levy sees us as moving past an information economy into an economy based on human interactions; a social economy. While the idea may seem startling, given our current emphasis on all things monetary, his reasoning makes you stop and give careful thought to ideas you may not have considered before. As technology advances, Levy points out, it's capable of taking on more and more advanced tasks--first simple labor and now the processing of information. As these capabilities become easier and well within everyone's reach, their value declines.

But the one thing that is beyond the reach of pure technology is the construction and maintenance of social interactions. What technology can do, however, is make it easier for humans to interact over greater distances and around obstacles. "Our humanity," Levy writes, "is the most precious thing we have." Levy, who is a professor in the department of hypermedia at the University of Paris, then predicts that we will take greater control of that value and everything related to it as we use technology to organize ourselves into what he calls Living Cities. Here, physical location is less important than the interactions of its members, and not surprisingly, the lack of territorialities will challenge present methods of governance.

Levy insists we are in the early moments of an historical paradigm shift of the magnitude of the Renaissance. And yet he avoids wild utopianism, keeping a clear eye on the realities and challenges inherent in any great transformation, complete with ample opportunities for things to go wrong. What emerges, however, is a different way of viewing the possible future, and plenty of reasons for asking why this utopian vision isn't attainable. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A poetic and pleasurable read." -- Choice

"Lvy's book is important....He doesn't accept free-market dogmas...a precondition for any coherent analysis of what is really happening in the Net." -- New Scientist

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738202614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738202617
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #587,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Nick Drengenberg on October 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
Sometimes Pierre Levy likes Michel Serres a little too much. Serres, a brilliantly original thinker, often explains that what he says and how he says it are inseparable, and is thereby in the best French philosophical tradition. Which works very well in his books, for the initiated, but Levy's probable attempt to emulate this in Collective Intelligence doesn't quite reach par, although at no point is he difficult to understand - the prose is just occasionally over-baked.
This being the only reason the rating dropped from five to four stars, on to what makes this an essential read. The title is a little unfortunate, as it will have some buyers believing here is another new-age bible about networked togetherness and pony-tailed social savvy. It isn't. Like Becoming Virtual, this is a serious book of philosophy, sociology and anthropology, with concepts and insights that make other theorising in the area of information technology, for example, look positively anemic by comparison. Above all 'collective' has wider meanings than the normal usage, and explaining how is probably the best way to review the book.
'Collective' usually implies a collection, a group of distinct things gathered together in some way to make a bigger thing. Some reviewers of the book use this meaning, suggesting Levy's idea is that technologies such as the internet simply extend traditional communication processes over large geographical distances, so that we can 'share information' better, and so on. Levy's collective, on the other hand, derives from Serres', where all large-scale, collective phenomena are distributive rather than summative - you don't make big, 'global' things by stacking lots of smaller, 'local' things, Lego-block style, because the local and the global don't have any necessary relationship.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
This dude is a heavy hitter, and it says a lot that this one made it over the water from the French original. Clearly a modern day successor to Jacques Ellul (The Technological Society) and before him Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Levy begins with the premise that the prosperity of any nation or other entity depends on their ability to navigate the knowledge space, and the corollary proposition that the knowledge space will displace the spaces of the (natural) earth, (political) territory, or (economic) commodity. He is acutely conscious of the evil of power, and hopes that collective intelligence will negate such power. He ends with a warning regarding our construction of the ultimate labyrinth, cyberspace, where we must refine the architecture in support of freedom, or lose control of cyberspace to power and the evil that power brings with it.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Tom Gray on October 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you want an interesting book, I'd recommend 'Collective Intelligence' by Pierre Levy. This book examines the social impact of Internet technology and proposes a set of ideals that should be used to guide a society using it. Levy tries to show how his set of ideals would obtain the most benefits from society from this technology. An interesting part of the book occurs when Levy compares the mode of live in an Internet society with that derived from Catholic ideals. He recounts mediaeval Catholic philosophy on the means by which God's insight creates the world. God exists by hid contemplation his own existence since he is the essence of all things and out of this contemplation springs angels which can contemplate their own existence but need other things to exist. There are 10 ranks of angels each created either by God's or the next higher angel rank's contemplation of themselves. The contemplation of the lowest rank of angels creates our world.
The nub of this is that the world is top down. The ideal is at the pyramid of existence and goodness derives its meaning from the top. Levy contrasts this with the new conception of the Internet. The lowest rank which is our world can create a new world above it. In our case, it is the lowest level of connectivity of the Internet. This new world is good in so far as it enables the inhabitants of our world to flourish. The lowest levels in cyberspace can create higher levels of existence with no limits on the number of levels which corresponds to the ranks of angels. Goodness flows up these levels from the real world in direct contrast to Catholic theology. Another view on this can be found in, 'The Religion of Technology' by David F. Noble. This book traces the origin of the Internet and the attitudes of its developers to Protestant theology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dan Wallace on April 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
Collective Intelligence was published in 1997, just as the Internet was gaining traction in the popular imagination. Reading this book, together with Neuromancer, made me realize that something monumental was afoot. Pierre Levy inspired me with this kind, poetic and visionary book.

With cyberspace Levy says, " Movement no longer means moving point to point on the globe, but crossing universes of problems, lived worlds, landscapes of meaning." Later he says, "The prosperity of a nation, geographical region, business, or individual depends on their ability to navigate the knowledge space. Building the knowledge space will mean acquiring the institutional, technical, and conceptual instruments needed to make information navigable, so that each of us is able to orient ourselves and recognize others on the basis of mutual interested, abilities, projects, means, and the identities within this new space." This process has made great strides since 1997, but I have heard it said that we are still on page one of the history of the Internet.

Levy explains how totalitarianism fails because it cannot not harness collective intelligence. But he cites the mass media focus on spectacle as a hindrance to capitalist society, and believes that cyberspace would help people filter their information and navigate knowledge. He said, "In the society of the spectacle, thought is buried in the world of media and advertising." As a solution, he sees reciprocal apprenticeship, breaking down previous social hierarchies. To help bind us together, Levy also sees the importance of signs, symbols and stories in cyberspace.

A deep and generous philosophy pervades this book. He says, "The just man includes, he integrates, he repairs the social fabric.
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