Many people throughout history to present time are declared as “brilliant”, “smart”, and “intelligent”. But what exactly determines someone’s intelligence? Is it how quickly they pick up studies in schools? Is it found in the students earning 4.0 GPAs and researchers winning Nobel Prizes? Certainly those types of people are considered intelligent, but what about the cashier working behind the counter at one’s local Dairy Queen? Do they also possess intelligence? How can we tell?
Intelligence is an interesting concept, mostly because it exposes itself in many shapes and forms. What is behind this concept of intelligence? Because I had no idea where to start, I wrote a quick bulleted list; a quasi-mind dump, if you will. I added this list below:
• being able to think through problems
• applying learned knowledge
• adapting to new situations by drawing on past experiences
• individual to each person
• knowing that your learning is always ongoing
These are a lot of different parts, and I figured a further breakdown of each point was necessary to reach the true meaning of intelligence.
First and foremost, intelligence is the ability to think though various problems and obstacles encountered throughout life. This goes beyond literal problems posed in classrooms, such as a complicated calculus computation. For example, perhaps a parent must plan out everyone’s schedules in the household, making sure someone will pick up Johnny at soccer while someone else does a grocery run. Or imagine a person puzzling through a fickle car engine that refuses to start. Both of those instances certainly require a basic level of intelligence, even if those are two different types of intelligences.
Secondly, not only is intelligence about learning, but applying that learning to those various problems and obstacles. Let’s take a look back at the previous two examples. Though making a plan for different schedules is always a good start, the execution is equally as important. Nothing will get done by simply drawing up a plan and leaving it on the table. The same thing goes for the car mechanic. Though they may think through various different ways of fixing the car, the customer will only be happy once their car is actually fixed. No one is paying the mechanic to simply provide solutions, but to also act on those solutions, in this case by repairing the car.
Next, intelligence goes beyond learning and acting by also adapting to new situations that come up (life loves throwing some good curveballs, after all). There will be instances in a person’s life where they may encounter something unexpected and/or new. Continuing with our examples, think about the scheduling parent. In all likelihood, their perfectly planned schedule is apt to change. Perhaps a child gets sick at school and must go home early, or maybe soccer practice got canceled. These situations must be adapted to with thinking and wit—it would be silly if the parent simply chose to ignore these new circumstances because they didn’t fit a the pre-determined schedule. The car mechanic would also adapt to his situation. In all likelihood, he will probably draw on past experiences in order to figure out the problem, using creative solutions that may not align with the usual fixes. This is a crucial part of intelligence—thinking outside the box to improvise and acclimate.
Fourthly, intelligence is individual to each person, which should be clear by now using these examples. The parent and the car mechanic are not utilizing the same type of intelligence. The parent may not know anything about cars, while the mechanic may not even have children whose schedules need to be figured. Each one is using a different logi and knowledge in order to solve their problems and adapt if needed. Though not the same kind of intelligence, both are examples of intelligence nonetheless.
Finally, I believe that the true crux of intelligence is understanding that achieving full knowledge is near impossible because the world is a constantly changing place. This part of intelligence reminds me of a quote which I have stated elsewhere in this course, but which also applies here, and that is “a foolish man thinks he knows everything, while a wise man knows he does not.” Nobody is mistaking the foolish man for being intelligent, while wise and intelligent, though not the same, go hand in hand. Again, take a look at the parent. Everyone knows parenthood is different for everyone, and a good parent knows that they are always learning new things about their children and the endeavors in which they partake. With our constantly changing technology, the car mechanic understands this too. Every year car companies roll out improved cars, and the mechanic must learn how these updated features work in order to keep his job. Truly, if a person is intelligent, then they know that there is always something new to learn, and that they will always be students as they go through life.
Looking at all these different parts of intelligence, I’ve come to realize my own personal definition of intelligence: an individual’s unique ability to learn from various sources, apply that knowledge in their life, and adapt to new situations while continuing their quest for knowledge in an ever-changing world. I think the most important parts of intelligence are the adapting to new situations and realizing that there is always more to learn. I would argue that someone who cannot improvise in new situations is not incredibly intelligent, because life is full of twists and turns, which means it often doesn’t coincide with the perfectly straight line of unadaptable people. Moreover, a person who believes that they cannot further increase their intelligence must also possess ignorance (meaning they are not fully intelligent!). The idea that a human can reach full knowledge of a changing world is honestly silly to me, and a truly intelligent person knows this concept and accepts it.
Being the computer science major I am, there’s one more aspect of intelligence that Ithink will become very important as technology grows more prevalent and immersive: artificial intelligence. On this topic, I have many more questions than answers, for the idea of intelligence may become completely redefined. Is it possible to create a computer that fits the above definition of intelligence? At that point, is it even artificial intelligence, or just plain old intelligence? Can something man-made that fits that definition of intelligence still be “artificial”? Moreover, how do we determine when something reaches intelligence?
Alan Turing gave us some ideas when he created an intelligence test known as theTuring test. In essence, if a machine can fool a human into thinking that the machine itself ishuman, then we consider it truly intelligent. I’m not sure this fully fits the case of being intelligent, because it is based on the assumption that the people participating are themselves intelligent. What kind of intelligence do we ascribe to a computer that can act like a human? It’s a mind-boggling idea.
This is how I define intelligence, though I am willing to accept arguments or additions to my own definition. Even so, after more learning and growing, perhaps I will come torealize that this definition changes, because the inherent idea of intelligence is to always continue questioning. The question that truly intrigues me, however, is not how I define intelligence now, but how I will define it in the future as humanity—and the technology it’s creating—evolves.