Collective intelligence, also known as shared intelligence, is an emergent property of groups that occurs when many individuals, collaborative or competitive, work toward the same end. This form of "intelligence" is not necessarily restricted to humans — other organisms that live in groups, such as bacteria and ants, and even components of organisms, such as cells, display emergent properties comparable to a collective intelligence or "group mind." Groups of sufficient size tend to overcome the small-group tendency of attempting to minimize conflict by avoiding controversial subjects or activities even if they are important. Large groups are also far less affected by the biases of individual members than small groups. With these traits minimized, a larger group working toward a common goal tends to display far greater overall intellectual and problem-solving capabilities than smaller groups or individuals.
There are several important characteristics that a group must possess in order for the emergent property of collective intelligence to fully manifest itself. Members of the group must openly share their thoughts and ideas so that all members can work with the same knowledge. These ideas, once shared, must be subject to criticism and modification by other members of the group as long as that modification and criticism is also shared. Additionally, ideas must be examined based on their own merits, not based on the reputation of the individual proposing the idea. Collective intelligence manifests itself most strongly when a large group acts almost as a single "mind," with free sharing of information and synthesis of the collective's body of knowledge.
Collective intelligence is a popular area of study in many fields, such as neuroscience, psychology, business, and computer science. Computer scientists often construct models to determine how various properties, such as group intelligence, can emerge from complex systems. Collective intelligence is of particular practical interest in business, as group decision making often drives innovation, business plans, marketing strategies, and other important elements. Researchers work to obtain greater knowledge of the conditions in which collective intelligence emerges so that businesses produce an environment that promotes collective thought and innovation.
Modern advances in communication have rapidly advanced humanity's capacity for collective intelligence. The Internet, in particular, provides a forum for the broad dissemination, modification, and discussion of many facets of human knowledge. Individuals from around the world with different backgrounds, areas of expertise, thought processes, and cultural conditioning can all collaborate on the same topics, thereby minimizing the effects of individual and small-group bias and promoting the emergence of a "collective mind" from the complex interactions of many individual minds.