Hayek on distributed knowledge

Cass Sunstein writes on the TPM Blog that Hayek’s ideas of distributed knowledge “bear directly on open source software, wikis, prediction markets, and perhaps much more”.  Yes, indeed. The mechanism that captures this aggregating phenomenon is called STIGMERGY:

the phenomenon of indirect communication mediated by modifications of the environment.

Indeed, much of what goes on in the complex world of humans can be understood in terms of stigmergic algorithms. Traditional cases of stigmergic systems include stock markets, economies, traffic patterns, supply logistics and resource allocation, urban sprawl, and cultural memes. New forms of stigmergy have been exponentially expanded through the affordances of digital technology: Google’s Page Rank and Amazon’s Collaborative Filtering are two star examples. Others include wiki, open source software, weblogs, and a whole range of ‘‘social media’’ that comprise the World Wide Web.

It’s nice to see Hayek finally receiving long overdue attention on matters epistemological from writers not writing from a strictly social theory background. Sunstein has an article in EPISTEME entitled “Deliberating Groups versus Prediction Markets (or Hayek’s Challenge to Habermas)“.