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How Human-Computer ‘Superminds’ Are Redefining the Future of Work

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How Human-Computer ‘Superminds’ Are Redefining the Future of Work

MIT Sloan Management Review,

5 min read
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Robots don’t have to replace your workers, but they can join the team.

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Discussions about AI and the future of work often center on the question of which human tasks or professions robots might replace. Yet humans rarely create things on their own. Almost all human achievements are the result of teamwork. In this article Thomas W. Malone of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence investigates the ways in which AI might assist and enhance human collaboration.


  • “Superminds” are collaborating groups of people creating outcomes that are superior to what an individual could achieve alone. 
  • Intelligence can be specialized or general. Computers today can outperform humans only at certain specialized tasks.
  • Computers can enhance collaborative efforts by taking over specialized tasks, collecting and evaluating data, and coordinating the work of individual group members. 
  • Computers can insert themselves in the team-based work process as tools or by taking on more independent roles as automated assistants, peers or managers. 
  • Computers can assist in strategic planning by collecting and evaluating a wide range of input and making suggestions based on past data. 


“Superminds” are groups of people working together in coherent ways, creating intelligent outcomes that no individual could have achieved alone. Superminds manifest themselves as organizational hierarchies, democracies, markets or communities. Computers can assist superminds to leverage and enhance their collective intelligence. Intelligence comes in two forms. Specialized intelligence refers to the ability to accomplish a narrowly defined task in a specific environment; general intelligence, by contrast, is the more flexible ability to achieve various tasks as well as to learn and adapt quickly to new situations.

“Barring some major societal disasters, it is very likely that general AI will appear someday, but probably not until quite a few decades in the future. All uses of computers will need to involve humans in some way until then.”

Artificial intelligence is specialized: Algorithms can do only what humans have programmed them to do. Humans, meanwhile, excel at general intelligence, being able to draw on a wide range of experiences and knowledge when tackling new challenges. To aid human collaboration, computers can perform specialized tasks or they can help coordinate the work of individual group members. Teams can leverage computers’ specialized capabilities in four different ways: As information tools, computers can help teams communicate more effectively. Platforms such as Wikipedia or Twitter, for example, help enhance the collaborative brain power of millions of users. As automated assistants, computers can enhance the work of humans, for example by autocorrecting spelling. Acting as peers, computers can take over some routine tasks entirely. A case in point is the chatbot capable of resolving some of the most common customer issues. Finally, computers may act as managers by assigning tasks to different team members and synthesizing their work to achieve superior results.

“One of the most important things most people don’t realize about AI today is that it is all very specialized…IBM’s Watson beats humans at ‘Jeopardy,’ but the program that played ‘Jeopardy’ can’t play tic-tac-toe, much less chess. Teslas can (sort of) drive themselves, but they can’t pick up a box from a warehouse shelf.” ”

In strategic planning, computers make it feasible to gather and evaluate the input of a large number of employees, not just a few senior executives. Strategic planners can then draw on employee suggestions, consumer data, customer feedback and market predictions to make a decision. Furthermore, computers could automatically suggest strategies based on decisions that managers took in similar situations in the past or in other company departments. Even if the proposed solution is of little practical use, it may prompt new ideas on how to proceed. Finally, computers can help strategic planners identify those employees whose input may be particularly valuable by tracking the accuracy of their past predictions.

About the Author

Thomas W. Malone is a professor of information technology and organizational studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.

This document is restricted to personal use only.

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