Bumblebees and ants may have tiny brains, but they create some of the most sophisticated solutions to problems within their respective ecosystems, and that collective intelligence—especially when harnessed by humans and backed by powerful technologies like AI—can offer new pathways to solving some of the world's most pressing challenges.

A June 2024 conference on the importance of this “collective intelligence” will gather some of the world's top minds at Northeastern University to explore the impact of technology and AI on human intelligence through human-autonomy teaming and augmented intelligence.

“Because so many people are interested in studying human and AI interaction, this conference is really a unique opportunity to learn more about it,” says Christoph Riedl, Associate Professor of Supply Chain and Information Management Systems and conference chair. “Given the increasing complexity in our digitized world, I think collective intelligence is going to play an increasingly important role.”

Humanics is one of the leading themes at D'Amore-McKim, both in terms of our research, but also of our teaching. This conference, which is focused on human-AI interaction, is at the core of that strategic initiative.

Associate Professor Christoph Riedl

Sponsored by the D'Amore-McKim School of Business (DMSB) and the Association of Computer Machinery (ACM), the ACM Collective Intelligence 2024 Conference comes at a unique time in DMSB's history as new Dunton Family Dean David De Cremer seeks to establish the school as the foremost institution for an interdisciplinary business education that can respond to future business needs. This includes a crucial grasp of humanics, or what Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun describes as a combination of three literacies: technological literacy, data literacy, and human literacy.

“Humanics is one of the leading themes at D'Amore-McKim, both in terms of our research, but also of our teaching. This conference, which is focused on human-AI interaction, is at the core of that strategic initiative,” says Riedl. “With many intellectual leaders, including Dean De Cremer, it's a great opportunity to welcome the collective intelligence community to our school.”

The conference's goal, explains Riedl, is exploring what can be learned about how humans interact with technology—not just for the sake of interacting with technology, “but to make the human condition better, and to help humans solve difficult problems.”

Because collective intelligence explores “how people and computers can be connected so that, collectively, they act more intelligently than any person or group has before,” notes Riedl, the conference will also expose businesses and leaders to ways to make more technologically enabled decisions—or, in other words, how to work smarter, not harder.

“How can AI help groups be more collectively intelligent?” adds Riedl. “When and how should individuals and groups use AI—or, which tasks are humans good at? Which tasks is AI good at?”

For rising and current business leaders, attending the ACM Collective Intelligence 2024 Conference presents a chance to understand how AI can boost innovation and collaboration and supercharge the team-based efforts that comprise the current workforce. 

“Teams not only span internal employees but also span across organizations with contractors, consultants, and partners,” says Riedl. “This trend is increasing: innovation cycles get faster, more and more organizations get more complex as we advance in digitization, and, as they get more complex, they become even more collaborative and team-based. Finally, more and more people are connected through digital tools and AI.”

The conference also presents an interdisciplinary opportunity for attendees—including DMSB students—to be exposed to new ideas from academics with diverse backgrounds like biology, neuroscience, psychology, and beyond.

One of the conference's keynote speakers is Jacob Taylor of the Brookings Institute, who will present in a joint workshop in collaboration with the Brookings Institute and the United Nations (UN) on how collective intelligence can help advance the UN's 17 sustainable development goals, adopted by all member states in 2015.

Another keynote presenter Riedl is excited about is Gina Lucarelli, Team Leader of the UN Development Programme's Accelerator Labs—an initiative using collective intelligence to help people working in different fields innovate faster by leveraging existing information and inventions—who will speak on the topic of collective intelligence for climate action.

But climate change isn't only at the forefront of the conference—another main session revolves around the question: Can collective intelligence save democracy?

It's a timely topic, and one that will have huge implications on the future of business, climate change, and modern life as we know it.

The ACM Collective Intelligence 2024 Conference will be held from June 26–29 at Northeastern University's Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex in Boston. Learn more.