The Project

How do groups store, share, and generate knowledge? Moreover, can groups be intelligent agents in themselves, under which conditions, and what effects may this have on the previous set of questions? Interdisciplinary research on such philosophically motivated considerations can lead to a number of key economic, social and cultural benefits.

The topic of group cognition has started receiving growing attention within philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Nevertheless, while the existing literature focuses on groups that form collective judgments and intentions, virtually no attention has been directed to groups that collectively know and are justified in believing some proposition p. And yet, Epistemic Group Agents—groups that reason and acquire knowledge by means of collective processes over and above the cognitive processes possessed by their individual members—have played an indispensable role in the progress of the human intellect, were a catalyst to the scientific revolution and have been at the forefront of modern science and economy. A full list of real life examples would include numerous scientific research teams (e.g., the Atlas experiment or Fermilab), business corporations (e.g., BP, Siemens, IBM, etc.), and even intelligence agencies (e.g., FBI, MI5, MI6).

Despite the gap in the existing literature, recent advances within philosophy of cognitive science and cybernetics (and in particular the fields of distributed cognition and systems theory and dynamics) as well as their intersection with epistemology (e.g., the Extended Knowledge Projectcan now provide the necessary tools for studying, modelling and even maximising the epistemic properties of group agents by design. Besides a theoretical approach on the basis of the above disciplines, however, this project can also benefit from a focus on several historical and contemporary case studies, originating from the fields of the history and philosophy of science and economics (see also A History of Distributed Cognition pilot project in EIDYN). 

Remarkably, understanding how groups can acquire knowledge on the basis of collective cognitive processes can have a multitude of far-reaching applications, especially within modern society where the means for communication and distributed information-processing become increasingly abundant, due to the rapid advancement of technology. With respect to its theoretical ramifications, this interdisciplinary project can generate a wide impact ranging over such disparate fields as epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics and political theory, amongst others.

In addition, however, it also has the potential to generate several practical applications. Here are two examples:

  1. The engineering of a new series of social machines that have traditionally aimed at knowledge-acquisition. Think, for example, internet search engines, music and video databases, and online encyclopaedias. The design of such knowledge-oriented programmes that aim at pooling information from the social domain and redistributing it to the individual can undergo a radical transformation. Instead of merely updating themselves by tracking the activity of their users, such programmes could provide users with the appropriate means to actively contribute to the database. The outcome will be powerful Web 2.0 human-machine programmes that will instantiate the properties of epistemic group agents.
  2. The development of Enterprise 2.0   knowledge management programmes that will allow business, academic and, in general, all kinds of social organizations operate as integrated epistemic group agents, maximizing in effect their productivity.    

In summary, Group Knowledge is an EIDYN pilot project that builds on the strengths of the University of Edinburgh in the humanities and social sciences, epistemology and philosophy of mind and cognitive science. The aspiration is to bring experts from such diverse fields as philosophy, computer science, cybernetics, systems theory and dynamics, economics, group dynamics, information systems and technology, business administration and public policy under a major research programme whose aim will be to study, design and explore the potential theoretical and technological impact of group knowledge and its underlying processes.  

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