In one of the MIT Artificial Intelligence¹ classes, we briefly discussed what intelligence meant to different people.

My simplistic way to look at intelligence before we got into the class was:

Intelligence is how we retain what we comprehend and perceive as knowledge, and how we intuitively adapt and apply this knowledge to the various day-to-day tasks in the full context of the environment.

Of course, the word intelligence is way too ambiguous and unspecific of a term to be used without a qualifier. I am talking about Human Intelligence.

Human Intelligence

We weren’t trying to define intelligence, knowing that even Alan Turing, had trouble doing so, and he ended up creating the Turing Test to test if a machine-intelligence can match human-intelligence.

Professor Winston (MIT CSAIL) in the class said that his Ph.D. advisor Marvin Lee Minsky did not bother defining intelligence either and said, intelligence is a ‘suitcase’ word, and you can stuff many words into it.

Intelligence is a suitcase word

So when you think of human intelligence what words come to your mind?

  • Ability?
  • Sentience?
  • Intuitiveness?
  • Coherence?

There are many more words. Some are duplicates of each other, but this is what I came up with initially.

  1. Sentience — ability to experience, feel, perceive things individually
  2. Awareness — ability to be cognizant of events and surroundings
  3. Self-awareness — mindful knowledge of one’s character, feelings, motives, and desires
  4. Intuitiveness — what is perceived to be true without rational thought
  5. Perception — ability to see, hear or become aware of things through the senses
  6. Alertness — being fully aware and attentive
  7. Interpretation — ability to decipher an expression or a situation
  8. Coherence — the quality of being logical and consistent
  9. Ability — the capacity to act
  10. Insight — a deep understanding of a person or things
  11. Decisiveness — the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively
  12. Acumen — the ability to make sound judgments and quick decisions
  13. Comprehension — the capacity to understand
  14. Judgment — the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions
  15. Discernment — the ability to judge well
  16. Realization — an act of becoming fully aware of something as a fact
  17. Consciousness — is the state and quality of awareness, knowledge of external objects or something within oneself.

On further thought, I added more words. I think a modern suitcase would also include sense, emotionality, reasoning, responsiveness, and conscientiousness.

  1. Sense — physiological capacity to perceive information via sight, smell, touch, taste, and touch; and additionally ability to sense pain, temperature, heart activity, etc.
  2. Emotionality — a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.
  3. Reasoning — the act of thinking about something in a logical, sensible way.
  4. Responsibility — accountability towards others
  5. Conscientiousness — desire to do what is right well and thoroughly, taking obligations to others seriously

It is interesting to compare Human and Machine Intelligence keeping above words in mind.

Then again Conscientiousness is another suitcase term. You can stuff other words in it. So are words like self-awareness, creativity, and emotion.

  1. A combined Business Strategy and Artificial Intelligence class taught by MIT Sloan School of Management & MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) professors.


Posted by Dickey Singh

Lived through the final AI Winter! Cloud, Mobile, Analytics, Intelligence, Enterprise, 8 patents Cofounder+CEO Encounters & Pyze, Husband & father of twins. Previously CTO, SVP Products: Vivo, Reply, CustomerSat, MarketTools, Infor, @Road, Baan, TCS.