Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Intelligence as a System

I continue to annoy friends and family with ridiculous questions about Intelligence. I am getting some confused looks as well as some illuminating answers:
  • Intelligence as the ability to make good decisions
  • Intelligence as the ability to learn
  • Intelligent people aren’t always very practical
  • Intelligent people have an unusually large vocabulary (really?)
  • There are many different sorts of intelligence.
For a word that’s in such common use, it’s amazing how we can’t quite put our fingers on what intelligence is.

This morning as I was driving to work I was pondering the Intelligence question. I was deep in thought as I drove through the wet and windy February weather. By the time I got out of the car I was miles away (in thought; I hadn’t lost my way) and was brought back down to earth with a beeping sound. My car was talking to me. It reminded me to switch my lights off.

What an intelligent little car, I thought to myself. With all my education, years of experience, and perhaps a small amount of something that might vaguely be described as intelligence, I would certainly have forgotten and left the headlights on. But my car had this particularly useful bit of intelligence built into it.

You may be thinking that this isn’t so remarkable, and in one way you are right. Once some bright spark had realised just how easily otherwise intelligent people can leave their lights on, and the technology became available to create the warning, the rest was relatively mechanical. I’ve written before about just how intelligent some cars have become, and the same might be said for washing machines, sports watches and many other devices that are now part of our normal lives.

Yet we forget how much freedom and intellectual space they give us. It made me wonder how much intelligence is in other systems such as checklists, software, maps and the like, that we also dismiss without a thought. Intelligence as a system places a great deal less responsibility on the individual and raises standards for the many.

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