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Posts Tagged ‘intelligence

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying”*…

Humans claim to be intelligent, but what exactly is intelligence? Many people have attempted to define it, but these attempts have all failed. So I propose a new definition: intelligence is whatever humans do.

I will attempt to prove this new definition is superior to all previous attempts to define intelligence. First, consider humans’ history. It is a story of repeated failures. First humans thought the Earth was flat. Then they thought the Sun went around the Earth. Then they thought the Earth was the center of the universe. Then they thought the universe was static and unchanging. Then they thought the universe was infinite and expanding. Humans were wrong about alchemy, phrenology, bloodletting, creationism, astrology, numerology, and homeopathy. They were also wrong about the best way to harvest crops, the best way to govern, the best way to punish criminals, and the best way to cure the sick.

I will not go into the many ways humans have been wrong about morality. The list is long and depressing. If humans are so smart, how come they keep being wrong about everything?

So, what does it mean to be intelligent?…

Arram Sabeti (@arram) gave a prompt to GPT-3, a machine-learning language model; it wrote: “Are Humans Intelligent?- a Salty AI Op-Ed.”

(image above: source)

* Oscar Wilde

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As we hail our new robot overlords, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that London suffered “The Great Beer Flood Disaster” when the metal bands on an immense vat at Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery snapped, releasing a tidal wave of 3,555 barrels of Porter (571 tons– more than 1 million pints), which swept away the brewery walls, flooded nearby basements, and collapsed several adjacent tenements. While there were reports of over twenty fatalities resulting from poisoning by the porter fumes or alcohol coma, it appears that the death toll was 8, and those from the destruction caused by the huge wave of beer in the structures surrounding the brewery.

(The U.S. had its own vat mishap in 1919, when a Boston molasses plant suffered similarly-burst bands, creating a heavy wave of molasses moving at a speed of an estimated 35 mph; it killed 21 and injured 150.)

Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery

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“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness”*…

 

Forest

 

Consider a forest: One notices the trunks, of course, and the canopy. If a few roots project artfully above the soil and fallen leaves, one notices those too, but with little thought for a matrix that may spread as deep and wide as the branches above. Fungi don’t register at all except for a sprinkling of mushrooms; those are regarded in isolation, rather than as the fruiting tips of a vast underground lattice intertwined with those roots. The world beneath the earth is as rich as the one above.

For the past two decades, Suzanne Simard, a professor in the Department of Forest & Conservation at the University of British Columbia, has studied that unappreciated underworld. Her specialty is mycorrhizae: the symbiotic unions of fungi and root long known to help plants absorb nutrients from soil. Beginning with landmark experiments describing how carbon flowed between paper birch and Douglas fir trees, Simard found that mycorrhizae didn’t just connect trees to the earth, but to each other as well.

Simard went on to show how mycorrhizae-linked trees form networks, with individuals she dubbed Mother Trees at the center of communities that are in turn linked to one another, exchanging nutrients and water in a literally pulsing web that includes not only trees but all of a forest’s life. These insights had profound implications for our understanding of forest ecology—but that was just the start.

It’s not just nutrient flows that Simard describes. It’s communication. She—and other scientists studying roots, and also chemical signals and even the sounds plant make—have pushed the study of plants into the realm of intelligence. Rather than biological automata, they might be understood as creatures with capacities that in animals are readily regarded as learning, memory, decision-making, and even agency.

Plants communicate, nurture their seedlings– and feel stress.  An interview with Suzanne Simard: “Never Underestimate the Intelligence of Trees.”

Pair with: “Should this tree have the same rights as you?

* John Muir

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As we contemplate cultivation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1602 that The Bodleian Library at Oxford formally opened.  (Sir Thomas Bodley had donated over 2000 books in his personal library to replace the earlier Duke of Glouchester’s (Duke Humphrey’s) Library, which had been dispersed.  Bodley’s bequest was made in 1598; but the full collection wasn’t catalogued and made available until this date in 1602, when the Library reopened with its new name, in honor of its benefactor.  Eight years later, Bodley made a deal with the Stationer’s Company– which licensed [provided copyright] for all publications in England– that a copy of everything licensed should be sent to the Bodleian…  making it a Copyright Depository, the first and now one of six in the UK.)

240px-Bodleian_Library_entrance,_Oxford

The Bodleian’s entrance, with the coats-of-arms of several Oxford colleges

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Written by LW

November 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying”*…

The notion that intelligence could determine one’s station in life… runs like a red thread through Western thought, from the philosophy of Plato to the policies of UK prime minister Theresa May. To say that someone is or is not intelligent has never been merely a comment on their mental faculties. It is always also a judgment on what they are permitted to do. Intelligence, in other words, is political.

Sometimes, this sort of ranking is sensible: we want doctors, engineers and rulers who are not stupid. But it has a dark side. As well as determining what a person can do, their intelligence – or putative lack of it – has been used to decide what others can do to them. Throughout Western history, those deemed less intelligent have, as a consequence of that judgment, been colonised, enslaved, sterilised and murdered (and indeed eaten, if we include non-human animals in our reckoning).

It’s an old, indeed an ancient, story. But the problem has taken an interesting 21st-century twist with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI)…

Go mental at “Intelligence: a history.”

Pair with Isaac Asimov’s lighter piece to the same point, “What is intelligence, anyway?

* Oscar Wilde

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As we celebrate variety, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Michel Eyquem de Montaigne; he was born on this date in 1533.  Best known during his lifetime as a statesman, Montaigne is remembered for popularizing the essay as a literary form.  His effortless merger of serious intellectual exercises with casual anecdotes and autobiography– and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as “Attempts” or “Trials”)– contain what are, to this day, some of the most widely-influential essays ever written.  Montaigne had a powerful impact on writers ever after, from Descartes, Pascal, and Rousseau, through Hazlitt, Emerson, and Nietzsche, to Zweig, Hoffer, and Asimov. Indeed, he’s believed to have been an influence on the later works of Shakespeare.

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Written by LW

February 28, 2017 at 1:01 am

“There’s a cardinal rule that you don’t talk about sharks. If you don’t see it, it’s not there”*…

 

New Smyrna Beach, Florida: Home to an astounding 238 attacks, this Florida beach consistently records more shark attacks than any other beach. However, despite that alarming number, there has yet to be a fatal attack. Most of the bites are from young bull sharks nibbling for what they think is food. New Smyrna Beach is part of Volusia County, Florida. A very popular beach, many claim that the reason the number of attacks is so high is simply because the number of people in the water on any given day is so high as well. Fishermen, swimmers and surfers flock to the beach whenever they get the chance and never seem deterred by reported attacks.

Sharks lurking close to the New Smyrna Beach shore

 

More at “The World’s 10 Deadliest Shark Attack Beaches“… and special bonus (into which New Smyrna also figures): “Deadly Destinations Around the World.”

* Champion open water swimmer Mark Warkentin

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As we think it’s safe to go back in the water, we might send brainy birthday greetings to David “Wex” Wechsler; he was born on this date in 1896.  During WW I, as a young psychologist assisting Edwin Garrigues Boring in testing army recruits, Wechsler was frustrated by the inadequacies of the Army Alpha Tests (designed to measure abilities of conscripts and match them to suitable military jobs), concluding that academically-defined “intelligence” did not apply to “real life” situations.  After leaving the military– and more years of research– he developed the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, (WAIS) and introduced deviation scores in intelligence tests.  He later developed the Wechsler Memory Scale, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence.  The WAIS is the most commonly administered psychological test today.

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Written by LW

January 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Intelligence is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”*…

 

Two researchers have proposed a new way of thinking about intelligence: one in which intelligence is related to entropy– one in which intelligence is a fundamentally thermodynamic process…

Alexander Wissner-Gross, a physicist at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Cameron Freer, a mathematician at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, developed an equation that they say describes many intelligent or cognitive behaviors, such as upright walking and tool use.

The researchers suggest that intelligent behavior stems from the impulse to seize control of future events in the environment. This is the exact opposite of the classic science-fiction scenario in which computers or robots become intelligent, then set their sights on taking over the world…

Read the full story at the always-illuminating 3 Quarks Daily; read the paper in the journal Physical Review Letters.  

* Susan Sontag

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As we reckon that maybe “hot air” isn’t so bad after all, we might send intelligent birthday greetings to Claude Elwood Shannon; he was born on this date in 1916.  A  mathematician, electronic engineer, and cryptographer, Shannon is best remembered as the “father of information theory” (for his 1948 paper that launched the field); but he is also credited with founding both digital computer and digital circuit design theory in 1937, when, as a 21-year-old master’s degree student at MIT, he wrote his thesis demonstrating that electrical applications of boolean algebra could construct and resolve any logical, numerical relationship– widely considered to be the most important master’s thesis of all time.

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