Intelligence – Basic Concepts

To define the concept of “intelligence” is consider to be a tough job, because man’s cognitive capacities can almost inconceivably be designed into a replica. Still,  it becomes more complex to define the term “artificial intelligence”. What follows is a short trip into the deliberations of recent years and decades.

What is intelligence?

The word INTELLIGENCE comes from the Latin “intellegere” (understand), which, composed of  “inter” (between) and “legere” (read, choose), literally means “choose between…”. When the word “intelligence” comes up in a live conversation, it is hardly ever clear what exactly is meant by it. There are innumerable definitions of the term that either relate to different aspects, (such as learning or solving problems), consider the phenomenon from different perspectives, (such as from the angle of development psychology, neurobiology, psychiatry, logic, or technology), or vary in their scope.

The respective entry in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia gives rather a general note:

Intelligence has been defined in many different ways to include the capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, and problem solving. It can be described as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context. ”

One of the most popular models of intelligence developed by the British psychologist Charles Spearman is based on the so-called “g factor” of general intelligence. This factor is seen as a personality trait that influences all kinds of performance. According to Spearman’s approach, the “g factor” provides a yardstick for a person’s mental capacity, intellectual performance, and processing speed and indicates weather a certain person is a “simple character” or a “more talented genius”. It allows predicting a person’s success at school, the prestige of their later profession, and their income better than any other graspable trait.

A matter much under discussion is to what degree the “g factor” is determined by biological (i.e., genetic) and social (and economic) parameters; the catchphrase for this debate is the Anglo-American world is “nature versus nurture”.


Intelligence factors and multiple intelligences

Other scientists reject the idea of general intelligence factor and emphasizes the area-specific organization intelligence. They define intelligence as the sum of abilities in various specific fields of cognition. The American engineer and psychologist Louis Leon Thurstone conceived a frequently used model. It distinguishes between seven primary abilities: spatial visualization, perceptual speed, numerical ability, rote memory, reasoning, word frequency, and verbal comprehension.

Some scholars such as US pedagogue Howard Gardner go one step further and postulate intelligences independent of each other (“multiple intelligences”), which are also located in the brain as separated organizational units. According to this theory, the breakdown of one of these intelligences does not affect the others.

Other scholars such as the British personality psychologist Raymond Bernard Cattell developed a model based on only two intelligence factors: “fluid intelligence”, which is hereditary and determines a person’s mental capacity, perceptive faculty, or general level of processing, and “crystallized intelligence”, which encompasses all skills acquired in the course of an individual’s life and determined by their environment; this form of intelligence is mainly concerned with applying the knowledge acquired.

Measuring intelligence

A person’s cognitive capacity is measured by means of intelligence tests. The result is frequently given in the form of an Intelligence Quotient[1] (IQ). Intelligence is assumed to be equally distributed among the population, the median raw score of the norming sample is defined as IQ 100 (with a standard deviation of 15 IQ points greater or less). Thus, each test result renders the deviations from this median value (for a certain age group).

Following the historical definition of the first IQ test carried out by the French psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in 1904, the intelligence quotient is obtained by dividing a person’s mental age score by her or his chronological age and multiplying the fraction by 100.

Since then are many different perspectives of what intelligence is, we also find many distinct intelligence tests. The tests were conceived for specific application such as assessing a child’s school readiness, forensic expertise, quantifying mental handicaps, or evaluating a person’s qualification for a specific job.

This great variety may be behind the saying (coined by the experimentalist psychologist Edwin Boring) that intelligence is what IQ test measures – a statement that reveals a rather pragmatic approach to the issue of defining intelligence.

Many concepts of intelligence include a measurement method to test and assess an individual’s cognitive capacity. The result is frequently expressed in the form of a so-called intelligence quotient (as compared to the human average). A common tent is psychology is that intelligence is what is measured by an IQ test.

Emotional and social intelligence

Next to the approaches described so far, which are supposed to explain and measure cognitive capacity, recently presented concepts of intelligence are aimed to not lessen important human qualities. In 1990, for example, US psychologist John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey introduced the term “emotional intelligence”. This term describes the capability of individuals to correctly recognize their own emotions and those of others, understand, and influence them – which is also an important factor when dealing with a person’s success in her or his life and job.

The concept of ”social intelligence”, which has lately come in to fashion, is equally important for such assessments. This kind of intelligence is seen as a complex of capacities that help to control reality in communicating and interacting with others and act effectively according to the involved people’s demands, as Dorsch’s Dictionary of Psyhology enlightens its readers[1].

There has been no doubt about the significance of this factor since 1920s, after the US psychologist Edward Lee Thorndike had observed that the best (trained) mechanic would fail as a foreman when he lacked social intelligence.

Who is artificial intelligence?

The definition of ARTIFICAIL INTELLIGENCE (AI) is as woolly as that of human intelligence. There is no generally accepted concept in this case either. Yet some authors understand AI as the skill to solve problems and achieve complex goals. Others regard the system as intelligent as if it shows capacities that are generally associated with the nature of man. Sill, other experts consider logical thinking or learning the crucial factors. Some focus on understanding or decision finding.

Wikipedia defines the AI research as “”intelligent agents“: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals.” This is a limited definition, as it does not clarify what “intelligent” in artificial status means.

One of the fathers of the term AI, the US scholar Marvin Minsky (who was the one that introduced the expression at the Dartmouth Workshop in 1956), was also not sure what AI exactly means. In our days, many scholars argue that it would be best to do it without the term at all and pragmatically rely on the expression “machine leraning” instead.

[1] See, Markus Antonius Wirtz, ed., Dorch – Lexicon der Psychologie, 18th, revised ed., Bern 2017, (November, 12, 2018)