Just because you made a machine “smart” doesn’t mean you made it intelligent.
Smart homes, IoT, AI, ubicomp, robotics, ambient media, pervasive computing – all are words that in one form or another describe our attempt to embed digital intelligence into the otherwise dumb, lifeless devices around us. However, as we engineers so often do, many of us have been all-consumed by the pursuit of a single focus at the expense of other equally, if not more important factors. The fields of IoT and AI have been racing ahead trying to get some basic functionality in place, yet in doing so, we’ve created another problem. We’ve been building greater and greater smarts and functionality, but in the process, created smart devices that are a bunch of assholes.
What we neglect in the pursuit of intelligence is that there is more than one type. Our current efforts have understandably chased after the more obvious, functional definition of intelligence, however, this narrow perspective on the word has created a bunch of basic gadgetry that no one wants to interact with. We’re actively building the electromechanical equivalent of genius savants – all IQ with no EQ.
And in fact, even that statement may be a massive overgeneralization. Human intelligence is potentially comprised of countless aspects. While there are many ways we can deconstruct these intelligences, all of which are incorrect or limiting in one way or another, for the sake of exploration in the digital sphere, let’s pick one and play.
Howard Gardener’s 1983 book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, is one of the more popular perspectives on the mind which views intelligence as a set of differentiated modalities, rather than as a single, general trait or ability. Though often criticized for blurring the line between innate smarts and developed ability, Gardener’s theory breaks down intelligence into 9 distinct, though somewhat interrelated types: logical-mathematical, linguistic, bodily, musical, naturalist, intra-personal, spatial, and existential.
If we hold these 9 as an expanded definition of the word intelligence, we can compare the technology of today against this expanded standard to see how smart our devices really are.
Our Natural Intelligence defines our ability to recognize and interact with the natural world around us – plants, animals, rocks, clouds, etc. Though not added until nearly a decade after publishing, Gardener described this intelligence as core to our evolutionary success as hunters, gatherers, and farmers.
Developmentally, this intelligence should be marked by little more than high-resolution vision and olfactory systems coupled with an extremely in-depth natural database to analyze against. In theory, this seems like a less important ability for machines to have, however, if we are to rely on them as tools for our need, you’ll likely want your smartphone not to accidentally serve you poison-ivy tea. Moreover, even a robot will likely suffer from mistaking a jaguar for a house cat, so there could be some important survival aspects here.
Current Artificial Level: City-Slicker
Leading Example: Bosch Bonirob
Implication: Device may be destroyed by nature or angry user.
Our body-smarts describe our ability to leverage our body and manipulate objects effectively around us. This intelligence relies greatly on a good sense of timing, perception, and control, enabling the perfection of fine or gross motor skills.
Plainly put, machines typically suck at this one. While a device can be programmed to perfectly optimize a single motion, such as in manufacturing environments, the moment any variability is introduced, all hell breaks loose. However, body intelligence is further complicated by the fact that devices are often build modular and adaptable; the equivalent of being caught in a permanent state of robotic puberty, where audio drivers drop a few octaves and new wires start growing where there weren’t any before.
Current Artificial Level: Drunken Toddler
Leading Example: Boston Dynamics Atlas
Implication: One wrong step and a half-million dollar piece of equipment becomes an impressive paperweight.
Spatial intelligence is a bit of a tricky one. At a glance, it is described as little more than the ability to think in three dimensions, however, the implications of this get a bit more interesting. Because of the human capacity to speculate, spatial intelligence effectively ties into our imagination and creativity, allowing us to perceive hypothetical versions of the world around us.
Can a computer think in three dimensions? Of course – it can likely think in four or five. However, very few machines have taken the next leap into projecting new thoughts and hypotheses into this three-dimensional world, meaning that as it stands, our best machines are little more than environment rendering software.
Current Artificial Level: Following the Lego Instructions
Leading Example: Autodesk Inventor
Implication: Cold-war era, brutalist design and architecture.
This intelligence represents our ability to calculate, quantify, consider propositions, and carry out logical operations. Beyond simply the manipulation of numbers, this intelligence has a heavy implication on pattern recognition and the ability to develop effective strategies.
This is the place where computers are currently kicking our asses. While some people may argue that machines still trail humans in pattern recognition and strategy development, anyone who has suffered the embarrassment of playing an RTS on “Insane” mode knows this to be a fallacy.
Current Artificial Level: Rain Man
Leading Example: Google AlphaGo
Implication: Younger generations not bothering to learn math and an impending enslavement of the human race.
Our musical intelligence – obviously – pertains to aspects such as pitch, rhythm, and timbre. However, beyond the simple identification of music, this creative intelligence allows us the ability to recognize, reflect upon, and even create our own musical patterns.
While the audio processing half of this equation seems to be little to no problem at all, once again, the greater creative aspect is where things become a challenge. That said, by analyzing historic data points of music, we have been able to create quite sophisticated music generation software. However, to date the music created by these programs falls into one of two categories: blatant rip off or painfully unlistenable.
Current Artificial Level: Starving Singer/Songwriter
Leading Example: Melomix109
Implication: We will continue to listen to top 40 songs produced by human pop-machines.
Our word smarts represent our ability to understand and express through words and language. However, even beyond this, Linguistic intelligence helps us to see broader context and apply meta-linguistic skills to understand the deeper meaning of language and communication; reading between the lines.
In theory, the artificial version if this intelligence is simply an effective natural language processing unit. The problem is that no one has built a good one yet, since human communication is fraught with subtle nuance, sarcasm, context-sensitivity, and lies. Basic linguistic intelligence is simply understanding the words – a task nearly cracked by the world of computational linguistics – but understanding the words behind the words is a feat that requires an understanding of who those words are coming from, which leads us to our next point…
Current Artificial Level: Super-Intelligent Parrot
Leading Example: Bruce Wilcox’s “Rose” Chatbot
Implication: Automated customer support lines will cause you to throw your phone across the room for at least another decade.
People smarts define our capacity to understand and interact with others without making things terribly awkward. This is the empathy category hinges off the ability for someone to interpret all types of verbal and nonverbal communication and be sensitive to the individuals around them.
We’re now getting into the territory where our technology simply sucks. Our current ability for technology to pick up on human context and emotion is only made look less pathetic by the ability for that technology to react to it. We’ve devoted entire fields – UX, HCI, and others – to attempting to improve this form of artificial intelligence, but to date, no one has really made a device that at some point doesn’t deserve to become airborne.
Current Artificial Level: Autistic Teenager
Leading Example: RoboThespian
Implication: No robot girlfriends just yet.
Intrapersonal intelligence describes our ability to look within and deconstruct ourselves. It is crucial to be able to identify and understand our own emotions, as well as to put these within a broader context of what it means to our lives and our futures.
This intelligence is practically non-existent within the technology world, however, not for lack of success, but lack of even trying. To date, few people have seen the value in a device that can be introspective, however, in coming years, this type of intelligence may be the key to unlocking broader interpersonal and existential smarts. How can we expect to understand others and the world around us, unless we can first understand ourselves?
Current Artificial Level: Dog Fighting its Reflection
Leading Example: Nico Robot
Implication: The emergence of artificial psychiatrists for robots that live in denial and refuse to acknowledge their own emotions.
Existential intelligence is likely the highest form and deals with broader questions of the limits of life and our existence. It highlights the part of our brains that allows us to think beyond the literal and contemplate broader concepts like the origins of life, spirituality, and how they get the caramilk into the chocolate.
At the top of the hill sits the most complex and elusive form of intelligence that, to our knowledge, few other species let alone technologies, have ever cracked. While I can’t be certain that pigs don’t think about where bacon truly comes from, I do know that it will be a long time before robots start developing their own religion. That said, the interesting thought exercise emerges once an AI has met and potentially surpassed this ninth intelligence and begins to explore the realms beyond… but I digress.
Current Artificial Level: Non-Existent
Leading Example: NA
Implication: DO robots dream of electric sheep? IS there a robo-god?