Intelligent Systems And Their Societies Walter Fritz

What Is Intelligence?


What is this "intelligence" that a system can have? Lets approach this concept in small stages.


Acting On The Environment
Objects of the "mineral kingdom", for instance stones and water, do not act by themselves on their environment. When they move, it is because elements of their environment have exerted forces on them. There are some exceptions to this. Some mechanisms, made by humans, do act on their own. A refrigerator acts to maintain a constant temperature. An auto pilot of a plane guides the plane to maintain altitude, course and other variables. In both cases humans have included objectives and these systems act according to them (but they do not learn).

Also, plants do act in certain situations, and this movement benefits the plant. The stems and branches of a plant grow so that they bend towards a light source and the roots grow towards moisture. So we can say that plants have built in objectives and move to reach these objectives. However, these possibilities of reacting exist in the plant at the start of its life. (This corresponds to the instinctive reactions of animals.) The plant does not learn; it does not add any additional capabilities (reactions) based on its experiences.


The Ability To Learn
Animals have instinctive reactions to certain situations, but something else also exists: Many animals can learn. This means that in a given situation they try out different actions. Then they note the effect. If the action was beneficial, if it brought the animal nearer its objective, its brain stores the experience. It does this as follows: It stores the situation, the action and how beneficial it was; so that it can perform this action again in a future similar situation. (This "benefit" is most often "survival" or the avoidance of injury or pain.) In animals, including humans, this "benefit" is sometimes encoded in the feeling of pleasure, a feeling the brain receives from the body.

In the adult human being, besides the pleasures of the body, there are "pleasures" or "satisfactions" generated inside the brain. We feel pleasure when we have solved a difficult puzzle, when we have done a difficult task well. We feel pleasure when we reach a (self-imposed) objective. As Pavlov showed, pleasure can be attached to anything (structures or transformations) by a conditioned "response", an action. Many people feel pleasure when they learn that dinner is ready, even before they have had the chance to eat anything.


Are Learning Rates A Measure Of Intelligence?
Humans learn much better than animals. They are better at extracting those elements from a situation, that are necessary for an action to be applicable. Again, between humans, there is an appreciable variation in this ability to learn. Humans learn faster at 20 years of age than at 60. Some have mental problems and can learn only very slowly and only simple relationships. Also there is variation within humans of so called "normal" mental abilities. So we see, the ability to learn has a wide range, from some rather stupid animals to some rather bright humans.

Some say that a bright child, who knows very little, but learns fast, is "intelligent." Still, the capacity to react adequately to a situation does not depend only on the speed of learning. During its existence, a human accumulates experiences. It seems obvious that a person can react better once it has accumulated a great amount of knowledge. It will know what action to perform to transform a given situation to one it likes better. If the person learns slowly, it will probably need more time to reach this amount of knowledge. But once it has learned, its reaction to a situation will be quite similar. Some say that such an experienced person is intelligent.

So we see that the concept of "intelligence" varies, and the amount of this "intelligence" varies, but always we can connect it with the ability to learn and to perform adequate actions in a given situation. Expressed with the words of a biologist of the behaviorist school: "The essence of intelligence is the adequate response to a stimulus." We need to remember, however that "adequate" is related to the objectives of the individual being.


Objectives Are Subjective And Individualistic
Objectives vary with cultures and with individuals. While in Africa my friend, Charles François, invited a Hindu to dinner. Knowing the man was a strict vegetarian, he instructed his wife not to serve any kind of meat. Dinner went along perfectly until the Hindu observed aloud that the soup had a very fine taste. The wife said: "Of course, since I cooked an ox bone with it." "A bone!" exclaimed the poor Hindu, as he ran to the bathroom and vomited the whole meal. Obviously objectives, and with them their learned habits and values, can vary greatly from one person to another. This may cause one person to respond differently to a given situation than would another.


Measuring Greater Intelligence?
We say that a system has a greater intelligence than another if it can make a better response to a stimulus than the other. But this is extremely difficult to determine, or at least very subjective, because, as we have seen, each system has its own objectives. Thus we must qualify the word "better" above to be in the sense of "more useful to reaching its own objectives."

Obviously, in spite of this variation, there is still a wide range in the grand and overall scale of "intelligence", or of "the capability in the selection and performance of adequate actions." For example, when we contrast the overall intelligence of an insect to that of a human, we find that the insect is severely restricted in its ability to generate and perform responses that aid it in reaching its objectives.


Our Definition Of Intelligence
We thus decided to define "intelligence" as the system's level of performance in reaching its own objectives. A system with greater intelligence, in the same situation, reaches its objectives oftener. (Another way to define and measure intelligence could be by the comparison of the relative speed of reaching its objective in the same situation.)

Other persons have different concepts of intelligence.
Some say that "intelligence" is something only biological systems can have, irrespective of how well electronic systems act. Still others say, that "intelligence" is something immaterial; if a material system does the same actions as an "immaterial" intelligent system, it is still not intelligent. In this e-book we are not talking about these other concepts of "intelligence" but only about the concept as defined above.

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Last Edited 11 July 2012 / Walter Fritz
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