Social Networks and Collective Intelligence: A Return to the Agora

Social Networks and Collective Intelligence: A Return to the Agora

Manuel Mazzara (UNU-IIST, Macau & Newcastle University, UK), Luca Biselli (Independent Researcher, UK), Pier Paolo Greco (Newcastle University, UK), Nicola Dragoni (Technical University of Denmark, Denmark), Antonio Marraffa (Polidoxa.com, Germany), Nafees Qamar (UNU-IIST, Macau) and Simona de Nicola (University of Bologna, Italy)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3926-3.ch005
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Abstract

Nowadays, acquisition of trustable information is increasingly important in both professional and private contexts. However, establishing what information is trustable and what is not, is a very challenging task. For example, how can information quality be reliably assessed? How can sources’ credibility be fairly assessed? How can gatekeeping processes be found trustworthy when filtering out news and deciding ranking and priorities of traditional media? An Internet-based solution to a human-based ancient issue is being studied, and it is called Polidoxa, from Greek “poly” (p???), meaning “many” or “several” and “doxa” (d??a), meaning “common belief” or “popular opinion.” This old problem will be solved by means of ancient philosophies and processes with truly modern tools and technologies. This is why this work required a collaborative and interdisciplinary joint effort from researchers with very different backgrounds and institutes with significantly different agendas. Polidoxa aims at offering: 1) a trust-based search engine algorithm, which exploits stigmergic behaviours of users’ network, 2) a trust-based social network, where the notion of trust derives from network activity and 3) a holonic system for bottom-up self-protection and social privacy. By presenting the Polidoxa solution, this work also describes the current state of traditional media as well as newer ones, providing an accurate analysis of major search engines such as Google and social network (e.g., Facebook). The advantages that Polidoxa offers, compared to these, are also clearly detailed and motivated. Finally, a Twitter application (Polidoxa@twitter) which enables experimentation of basic Polidoxa principles is presented.
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Introduction

In the democratic city state of ancient Greece, the “agora” (from Greek: ‘Aγορά, “gathering place” or “assembly”) was the place where citizens used to meet, discuss, exchange information and make important decisions about the future of society. In this place, the concept of public sphere was born: in fact it was considered another kind of space, a sort of empty space next to the private one. The citizens used to meet there and considered it not a personal but a common space. It was by virtue of this effort that the perfect model of a democratic city was born: the agora was the meeting place of the assembly of citizens: in the public square each person is equal no one is subjected to any other. The agora was the political place of a multitude, composed by different parts but similar at the same time, all with the same rights. It was a place where discussions occurred without violence, force and abuses. Hannah Arendt in Vita Activa (Vita Activa, 1958) identified in this Greek model of cities the highest forms of citizenship: every Athenian citizen, in person and not through representation, when a serious risk and danger occurred, used to go in the agora and discuss the highest issues, committing themselves to put into practice what has been said. This was a political system based on equality of knowledge, information exchange and decision making fairness. Nowadays, the mechanism by which information is spread across (and consequently how decisions are made) has had a significant change in nature. In fact, the majority of people retrieve their information from major TV stations, radio and newspapers. The weakness of this mechanism is that it is a one-way information, not a cross-flow one. This means that citizens have lost their ability to interact with the decision making process. Consequently, the concept of “agora” is lost in favour of a different mechanism.

These days the average citizen gets access to information mainly by watching TV, especially the main national channels. Radio, newspapers and magazines represent a secondary source of information but they are hardly comparable to the power of TV. In particular, reading takes time and it does not suit well the hectic life style of modern times. As a consequence, information obtained by reading books can be considered quite negligible for an adult citizen with an average level of education. Another major problem comes from the fact that the majority of the world population speaks just its native language while some information is not always accessible in that language. Furthermore, to have a complete unbiased (or at least, multi-biased) source of information, it would be quite useful to access documents coming from diversified sources in different languages. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American citizen watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year life span, that person will have spent 9 years watching TV. The percentage of Americans regularly watching TV while eating dinner is 66%, while 49% say they simply watch too much of it. These are very alarming numbers and they may raise health concerns, but the authors believe that there is an even bigger issue behind them. Accessing information mainly or exclusively from TV, as the common experience (plus statistics) shows, is obscuring the potential of other sources of information like radio, newspapers, magazines, books, the Internet or a community of trusted contacts. These other sources are generally able to provide a much wider opinion range. Indeed, we are not really able to access unbiased sources, but we could get what we call a “multi-biased source” at least. A more heterogeneous set of different viewpoints, which then could stimulate human critical thinking and cognitive interpolation is desirable.

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