In Star Trek, First Contact, where there is a big battle against the Borg, one of the major problems facing Jean-Luc and the crew of The Enterprise is the way the Borg use their collective intelligence – if one Borg knows one thing, then all of them know – whether that is your special vulnerability, what makes you happy or sad, or the date of your birthday (some of those are assumptions) – as with all Hollywood Blockbusters, this collective intelligence is also a great weakness, and, the crew survive to fight another day.
Imagine if that was how we worked in medicine. To some extent, that already happens – since Berners-Lee, we have been adding to our great database – sure, humans have been doing that since we first started drawing pictures on walls, but, doing it big-time, as we are now, beyond Guttenberg; has only been in the past couple of decades, when that one thing I think or write is instantaneously available to another person anywhere else in the world and for all time.
So, it is likely, although not certain, that as with the Borg, although this has enabled us to expand our learning and knowledge beyond anyone’s imaginings, it has also likely created an Achilles Heel.
I haven’t seen the movie, ‘The Fifth Wave’ – as I have been told by so many people that is it is no good; I did however read the book a few weeks ago, which I thought was great – and, this is one of the premises of the story – the aliens, who they call ‘The Others’ have managed to enact such a massive toll of death and destruction on humans, principally because we not only use the internet to maintain our societies (keep planes in the air, coordinate sanitation, water pumping, gas and electricity), but because we, that is the majority of us nowadays, live in cities, are gregarious, come together in convenient, bite-size groupings that helps aliens attack us without too much effort.
I appreciate this is getting off my usual subject of medicine and ageing, and I do not want to suggest that there is anything specifically wrong with our current model (although there likely is) – I want to express how much on an advocate I am for collective intelligence; indeed, I believe, if we were able to utilise this more often, whether in medicine or in life, the outcomes would, in general be better.
There is more to it than that, of course, just because The Crowd all believe one thing doesn’t mean that it is correct – we need space for those who see the world differently, otherwise we are apt to fall into a Group-Think guddle.
So, here is the difference from the Borg and us – it is the option to be able to listen, to share information, to learn from the experiences of others, yet, also to have the ability to filter, to manage the flow that the Borg, ants and honey bees perhaps don’t.
I guess this comes down to some sort of human skill mixed-in with intelligence, emotional, intellectual, musical or whatever, combined with empathy, caring and sensitivity – overlaid with a degree of humility – in case you have it all wrong.
So the next time you see your doctor, perhaps ask, or at least have ready the question when they steer you down one course of action – investigation, diagnosis or treatment, ‘Is that what everyone else thinks?’ – if 100,000 other doctors, clinicians, nurses, therapists, lay people, patients, carers, survivors, problem solvers, academics, technicians, engineers, poets and philosophers had listened to my story, would they be of a similar opinion, would your certainty be the same?