What is Intelligence?

Reading Homo Deus by Yuval Harari really made me think about some stuff. Here’s what I concluded about the nature of intelligence:

I’m going to go out on a limb and say drawing conclusions from a given amount of data can be defined as a reasonable metric for intelligence. For instance, in math classrooms the most intelligent students are those who can work through problems with ease and in the absence of exterior help. However, machines can do the same in a matter of nanoseconds. In fact, machines have already replaced humans in terms of calculation, with pocket calculators now a classroom tool and supercomputers enabling us to explore much larger numbers like the googolplex. Now, machine learning is replacing humans in the broad area of problem solving. Artificial Intelligence is being used to diagnose patients with various maladies, effectively reducing a doctor’s job from diagnosis and cure to just cure, which may be cut down even more due to the development of robotic surgery tools.

It’s safe to say machines are more intelligent than humans in the modern world. Machines are already pioneering and establishing new frontiers for humankind. From Mars, where mechanical probes are more commonplace than humans, to the Marianas Trench, where remotely piloted submarines have been before us. The advent of artificial intelligence will seal what is surely the intellectual dominion of computers over humankind. This begs a very important question, what makes us unique?

The first two candidates that come to mind are curiosity and sentience. On a side note, Octopuses display both those traits. With a separate brain in each of their eight tentacles, a camouflaging ability that puts chameleons to shame, and a profound tendency to form emotional bonds with everyone they meet and memorise them. Octopuses are to us what velociraptors were to Dr Alan Grant in Jurassic Park; thank god they dwell in the ocean and not on the surface.

Another pressing question isn’t whether or not sentience makes us unique, but whether or not it makes us weak. Machines lack emotions, most people call that a drawback, but is it? Imagine this scenario:

It’s the year 2050, and humankind has a noticeable presence on Mars, with upto ten thousand people calling themselves ‘Martians.’ A disease outbreak the likes of which have never been seen before occurs, killing every single Martian. A ship departs from Mars, bound for Earth. Now, a human gateway operator in a space station orbiting Earth has two alternatives, destroy the ship from Mars using a nuclear warhead to prevent a potential outbreak on Earth, or let it pass and risk an extinction-level event. Here’s a twist, his wife and kids are aboard the ship. This creates a situation where there’s room for doubt, which leads to potential for catastrophe, and when a few lives come in the way of all life, catastrophe does occur. Now imagine a benevolent AI operating the space station. Weighing the

lives of those aboard the ship against life on planet Earth, it would pull the trigger and hence end the risk of another outbreak.

Movies and books about future civilizations and artificial intelligence always contain fascinating plot twists where all of a sudden love emerges as the differentiator between humans and machines. Machines go haywire, and the humans win. Interstellar ends with love ‘transcending reality,’ and being the one ‘force’ that saves the entire planet from starving. Why? Because a father loved his daughter very much. Imagine an artificial intelligence program in place of Darth Vader, would it have given in to fatherly love, killed the Emperor, and ensured the victory of the light side in ​The Return of the Jedi?​

What makes machines efficient is their lack of emotional judgement. Did Curiosity, the rover, ever feel lonely on a planet from which Earth is visible as nothing more than a speck? No, it didn’t. Computers’ lack of sentience and their astounding computational and logical powers make them dominant over us.