How we are intelligent

In her book, Machines Who Think, Pamela McCorduck surveys what Artificial Intelligence  (AI) researchers appear to be after by way of new software algorithms that will make computers into machines that are indistinguishable from humans by way of identifying goals. seeking out the data that will inform how to get there and then follows through with instructions.

This is very much what we do when we specialise in an interesting or problematical topic chosen from our perceptions, think about them — acquiring more data if we need to — and then, finally, our brain instructing our muscles to carry our some activity to clarify a situation or solve a problem — or build a computer to do it for us !

AI researchers say — and McCorduck agrees with them — that they are seeking simplicity in the classical Newtonian manner when he said:  “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” Unfortunately, although Isaac Newton did indeed refine complex problems such as gravity or the nature of light into simple mathematical statements, these formulae didn’t, in fact, last all that long.

Einstein then came along and modified Newton — inventing yet more simple formulae — and he in turn has now had to be modified with quantum physics. This is now accepted by almost all physicists even though no-one truly understands its complexity.

And then, too, evolutionary biologists, who study the brain from the genetics angle, say that intelligence is not at all simple. Indeed, in reality, it has become more complicated as time goes on.  What they have noticed, as evolution has proceeded from apparently simple single-cell bacteria almost 4 billion years ago to the higher mammals — and ourselves, of course — that the nervous system which masticates, and then delivers, intelligence, has become even more complex as we survey the evolution of the brain.

And a larger and larger brain, too, compared with body weight — in animals such as the elephant, apes, porpoises and ourselves. These all seem to possess self consciousness, an intuitive sense of correctness (in our case most prominently in mathematical proofs) and a sense of fair-play (the very basis of our economic system).

One very interesting feature of the animals mentioned above is that their brains have not only become larger but much more crinkled.  The higher thinking faculty of the brain is actually carried out only on the outer skin, or cortex, of the brain.  In order for processing to be amplified from one species to the next without making the head too heavy to carry around, the cortices of these brains have become very crinkled.  It’s important to mention this because there are some mammals with extremely crinkled brains about which, so far, not a lot is known abut their intelligence.  There may well be a few more species added to the elite  ‘Intelligence List’ before too many years are out.

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