Thursday, December 31, 2015

The limits to intelligence

There's an old saying: if you want to know how smart someone is, don't ask them about things they're familiar with; give them a problem with which they are unfamiliar .. and see how they cope.

Actually, intelligence is implicated in both procedures, but not equally.

In the first case answering requires deduction within a framework already established. The problem solving process proceeds by deduction (whose results may already have been memorised). Another old saying: the expert doesn't have to think because they know.

If someone is a quick thinker or has encompassing knowledge then we're impressed. But it's hard to gauge whether we're seeing quick wits or the consequences of long experience: fluid vs. crystallised intelligence. The former is more associated with high IQ.

The second case, where the problem is unfamiliar, calls for a different kind of cognitive process - abduction. Concepts which at first sight may appear to be unrelated to the problem need to be brought into play, to transform the paradigm into something which can then be successfully addressed by deduction (in truth both processes intertwine). Raw intelligence is much more apparent in searching a space of general concepts to see which might turn out to be useful. Still, those concepts must have been learned in the first place. Perhaps that's why the truly intelligent are curious about everything.

Here's an example from this website (there are more puzzles there).
You are driving down the road in your car on a wild, stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop and you see three people waiting for the bus:

1. An old lady who looks as if she is about to die.
2. An old friend who once saved your life.
3. The perfect partner you have been dreaming about.

Knowing that there can only be one passenger in your car, whom would you choose?
If you're like me, you'll think about this for a while, mulling over the three alternatives - none of which seem particularly compelling - before plumping for the altruistic but unsatisfactory solution of the old lady.

And that's where deductive logic gets you. Using abductive logic there's a much better solution, as shown in this diagram.

Modelled after a semantic net (hand-waving as to how a machine intelligence might do it) we introduce a new concept - that nothing says you have to stay in the car yourself. Then (assuming the old friend is amenable and can drive, both of which are plausible) everyone gets to be happy.
Solution: The old lady of course! After helping the old lady into the car, you can give your keys to your friend, and wait with your perfect partner for the bus
Suppose we were confronted by a super-intelligent entity. I suggest that the content of its super-intelligence is that it has superior powers of deduction (ie it can quickly search and rate a large tree of relevant consequences) and it has enhanced powers of abduction (ie it has a large and well-attributed set of concepts about all kinds of things which it can rapidly search and grade for relevance to the problem at hand, thus effecting a paradigm-transformation, a reframing of the problem).

Such an entity wouldn't just be impressive, it would be awesome. It would be impossible to predict because it would keep moving the goalposts. How unsettling is that?

How could you defeat such an entity? Put it into a situation where no amount of reframing the problem (which occurs in conceptual space, not material reality) can be mapped back into effective action. A genius, thrown into a prison cell which is then locked and the key thrown away, may find escape impossibly difficult.*

* Watch out for repurposable implements, jailers susceptible to compelling propositions and pre-prepared allies.


Talking of entities which keep reframing the plot so that you never know what's happening next, may I recommend to you the ridiculously exciting and 'possibly bonkers' SF thriller, The Breach' by Patrick Lee.


This morning's addition to our front garden menagerie

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