Group Knowledge and Social Machines

Spyridon Palermos

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


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?
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 (e.g., List & Pettit, 2006) and intentions (e.g., Tollefsen, 2002), 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 cognitive science, and especially the field of distributed cognition (e.g., (Hutchins, 1996; Theiner, Allen, & Goldstone, 2010)), as well as its intersection with epistemology (Palermos & Pritchard, 2013) and dynamical systems theory (e.g., Palermos, 2014) can now provide the necessary tools for studying, modeling and even maximizing the epistemic properties of group agents by design. To do so, however, it is necessary to first address certain questions about the process of ‘cognitive integration’ (Palermos, forthcoming): How do different cognitive processes get integrated, what is the relation of cognitive integration to the concepts of knowledge and justification, and can it be manifested by both individual- and group-level cognitive systems?
These are some of the questions I will address in this talk both from a philosophical and cognitive science perspective while also considering concrete examples from the study of transactive memory systems (Wegner, Giuliano, & Hertel, 1985) and scientific research teams. In effect this will provide us with a clear grasp of the concepts of Group Knowledge and Epistemic Group Agents that we will then examine how to apply in the case of what Berners-Lee (Dertouzos, Berners-Lee, & Fischetti, 1999) termed ‘social machines’. Specifically, I will review the interesting case of Wikipedia and the worrisome steady decline of its active contributors (Halfaker, Geiger, Morgan, & Riedl, 2012) in order to see whether the previous discussion can be put in practice to a positive effect.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014
EventComputational Social Science Satellite Workshop, European Conference on Complex Systems - Lucca, Italy
Duration: 24 Sep 201426 Oct 2014


ConferenceComputational Social Science Satellite Workshop, European Conference on Complex Systems

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  • Group Knowledge

    Palermos, S. O., Pritchard, D., Carter, J. A. & Kallestrup, J.

    1/02/14 → …

    Project: Other (Non-Funded/Miscellaneous)

  • Extended Knowledge

    Pritchard, D., Clark, A., Kallestrup, J., Carter, J. A. & Palermos, S. O.



    Project: Research

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