What is intelligence?

What is intelligence?

This question is particularly relevant for people who want to create it (Artificial Intelligence). And it’s a hard question to answer, because “I’m intelligent” may be a true answer, but it’s not a useful answer.

For some, the summary is:

An agent’s ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments.

(see interview: Marcus Hutter—Universal Artificial Intelligence)

This is not a bad answer, but it might be a little circular. It’s certainly vague, and does not guide us towards creating intelligence, nor even ranking it. Is an entity that can achieve goals quickly in some environments better or worse than an entity that can achieve goals slowly in a lot of environments? Also, do entities achieve the goals they set out to master, or do they achieve goals as an accident of existing? I’m not trying to belittle what Marcus Hutter is saying, far from it.

There’s a problem with theories that start with information, such as Kolmogorov complexity or Chaitin’s Omega; they assume that information can’t be created from nothing. I have a suspicion that this is false, and that this is related to life, to animate matter versus inanimate matter. Agents that operate by gathering information and learning seem to have this pernicious underlying theory that information is external. But what if agents generate information by their very existence?

Gendankenexperiments are often the best experiments. After all, Einstein did most of his work this way. So let’s posit two universes:

  • a universe with no life
  • a universe with life

Would they turn out the same? Absolutely not. Would they have the same amount of information in them? It seems that the first universe would have far more information in it than the second (the Mona Lisa, the Great Wall of China, and so on). So either I’m wrong, or the first universe, having life in it, generated information.

I agree that we can be modeled in some respects as agents: we get information, we evaluate it, we make decisions. But we also do more than our inputs. At this point, evolution seems like a safe bet, and we seem like we are more complicated than the single-cell forms of life from 1 billion years ago. We have more information now than the Earth had 1 billion years ago. There’s a feedback loop, then; we may take in information, but we also create it.

So a theory of intelligence has to also explain how information can be created. In fact, I’m going to posit that life creates information, and intelligence creates information deliberately, rather than emergently.

Which makes it tough for simple theories of agents and their utility functions. But it’s also awesome; life is not a zero-sum game.

In my opinion. Which I’ll attempt to turn into fact at some point.

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