As a life-long learner, student, and subsequently as a teacher, the subject of intelligence has interested me much of my adult life.  What is it?  How do we get it? Why do some of us have a lot, and some of us not so much of it? How do we measure it?  And why do some have one kind of intelligence, while others have other types and some have none?

Intelligence, like many words, stems from Latin, intellectus (noun), and intelligere (verb) to perceive and understand.  It implies gathering knowledge, retaining knowledge, ranking that knowledge, and critically assigning a value to it and then acting on that knowledge with wisdom, planning, and reasoning.  More mundane and shorter, it could be put as knowing what to do.   We are not the only ones that have it, all be it we have more than any other living thing, at least at this time on this planet. Certainly, animals that use tools to get food, such as chimpanzees and even ravens fit into that category.  But, dogs, dolphins, elephants, and even insects have been shown to have problem-solving abilities as well as pattern recognition and demonstrating some comprehension of numerical concepts.

On the other hand, do plants think?  If one considers that plants do sense their environment, and respond by adjusting their physiology to ensure self-preservation and reproduction, one would have to cede them some degree of that trait we call intelligence.  Around six million years ago, there was a common ancestor to hominids and the great apes, Nakalipithecus.  Lucy, an Australopithecus, the first hominid branched off, and here we are, four million years later.  Compare that to genus Dinosauria, who inhabited the earth for close to 200 million years.  Although the velociraptor exhibited considerable intelligence, hunting in organized packs and living in family units, they did not get very far in their allotted time on earth.  No dinosaur institutes of higher learning, no dinosaur symphonies or philosophical writings were left, despite all that time.  We are now producing computers that soon may outthink us.  AI (Artificial Intelligence) is challenging us and undoubtedly will overtake us at some point, if not next year, without a doubt in a hundred years.  The IBM supercomputer, Watson, has already beaten the Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings in 2011, and the IBM supercomputer, Deep Blue, beat Garry Kasparov, former World Chess Champion in 1997.  

There are multiple facets of intelligence, nine to be exact, according to Harvard Professor Howard Gardner.  

 Naturalist – Darwin would have to be the penultimate genius in that division of smarts.

Musical – I would nominate Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for the creator, and Luciano Pavarotti as the executor of those talents.

Logical and Mathematical – Several geniuses come to mind, Albert Einstein and Steven Hawkings to name the top two on my list.

Existential – Socrates! Too bad, they killed him.

Interpersonal – Few could look into the human souls and guess what they thought, what motivated them, and what provoked them.  Shakespeare was one of those, and he did it with style.

Bodily-kinesthetic – Several greats come to mind, all depending on the sport: Jesse Owens, the first to break the four-minute mile. Jim Thorpe an all-around athlete, eight gold medals in the Olympics in track, made it to the World Series of Baseball, and won two Super Bowl rings. Pele scored 1281 goals in 1363 matches and won three World Cups in soccer. Nadia Comaneci, with her nine Olympic medals, in gymnastics, certainly makes the list.  

Linguistic – There are many great speakers! You may disagree with me, but my choices depend on those speakers whose words changed the course of history. That would certainly be a measure of linguistic ability.  The list is short: Jesus of Nazareth, Muhammad, Winston Churchill,  Adolf Hitler, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy.  These seven had the gift of gab that changed the world, some for better, and some for worse.

Intra-personal – It is challenging to find the geniuses that have this skill, as it deals with the individuals inner life and dialogue with the self.  No one makes those visions, thoughts, and self-appraisals public.  Finding a genius with the intra-personal talent, we must look at the totality of an individual’s output, to see how they lived, how they affected their surroundings, and how effective they were.  The candidate I would choose as the genius of this trait is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. 

Spacial – Leonardo da Vinci, and his contemporary rival and sometimes nemesis, Michelangelo Buonarroti had that ability to see unique relationships, colors, perspective, design, and put it all together to reproduce it for all of us not as gifted in spacial relationships.  I will put Jackson Pollack at the bottom of this list if you have ever seen one of his paintings (drippings).

Will computers have all the facets of intelligence that humans have?   Or like humans, will some machines be smart in some things and stupid in other situations.  But do machines really think like humans? Alan Turing devised a test that would determine if a device responds like a human.  The interrogator engages the computer in a conversation carried on over a monitor and keyboard, and even if the computer does not answer everything correctly, the device still passes the test if it responds as a human would. Turing never intended his test to become the benchmark to see if a machine matches a human in intelligence, and there are flaws that the Turing test fails to address.

Consequently, there are a variety of newer tests and improved versions, that focus on a reliable means of establishing equivalency.  For example, the Turing test ignores the fact that sometimes the real human does not respond intelligently either because he/she wants to fool the interrogator or the person just makes an error or is indeed not intelligent.  The concept of Artificial Stupidity is a factor that must also be built into machines to make them more human-like.  Another Turing flaw is that it does not address the superfast response of a machine. That is not consistent with humans intelligence, as is pointed out in a recent commercial that shows a mathematician, Günter Zoloft, working on a huge wall like blackboard filled with formulas, as he is putting on the final touches on having solved Carmichael’s Totient Conjecture. A computer can solve a problem in seconds that would take mathematicians hours or weeks to solve. 

The recognition of patterns is characteristically human and is employed in the CAPTCHA test.  Shuman Ghosemajumder, the click fraud czar of Google, has defeated that one also, but it takes a very sophisticated computer to recognize patterns.  The Chatbot is a new application of AI.  A computer engages a human in dialogue, verbally or textually, from banking, to toys, to advertising, to sex online, and they are getting better all the time. Soon it will be difficult to tell the real human apart from the bot.  In his last and final book, Steven Hawkings predicts that AI will be the crowning achievement of the human species, and will help us with the significant problems we face on this third rock from the sun, like pollution, world hunger, overpopulation, and global warming.  The one caveat, he warns, is that there must be a “kill switch” on all AI machines, lest they take over the world once they become smarter than we are, which they will!