What is Intelligence ? Why is this question important in the context of social businesses ? Intelligenthq has published already various articles approaching this fundamental question from various points of view, such as what links business and intelligence, intelligence and leadership and intelligence and innovation.
What is intelligence seems like an obvious question with a straightforward answer: But if you think about it for just a moment you will realise that this seemingly innocent question is much harder to answer than you at first thought. Look up “definition of intelligence” on an Internet search and all kinds of results will come up. For example, there is logic and abstract thought. There is also the ability to be creative and solve problems. Being self-aware is considered to be intelligence, as is understanding and being able to communicate. Intelligence is also a concept that can be argued to be both conscious and subconscious. And that’s not even considering artificial intelligence which is basically machines that are intelligent. In an editorial statement produced by 52 researchers in 1994, intelligence was defined as follows:
“A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience.”
It is further explained that intelligence is not limited to learning information, but rather it involves being able to better understand surroundings and the situation that we are in. It is concerned with being able to make sense of the situation and being able to determine what to do as a result of being in that situation. As already alluded to, intelligence in humans is seen to be different from intelligence in other life forms and from artificial intelligence. It can be argued that human intelligence gives us the ability to learn, understand, reason and recognise patterns, which in turn leads to being able to think and experience. Animal intelligence is hard to define because understanding intelligence between species raises a lot of difficult challenges of measurement and comparison for researchers. Intellect can define widely according to species, and even plants have some sort of intelligence as they adapt to their environment and what they experience.
An equation that defines intelligence ?
The question of what is intelligence has kept many great thinkers busy over the millennia. For a start, the meaning of intelligence has not always been the same throughout time and it might be argued that context influences what intelligence is. Indeed, Alex Wissner-Gross points out that over time, as innovations have changed and grown and as we have increased our understanding of the physical ability to swim and fly, what means by intelligence has changed. In fact, Intelligence has been the subject of a recent Ted talk by Alex Wissner-Gross (2013) who has raised all kinds of questions about our concept of intelligence.
Wisner-Gross argues that in fact there is an equation for intelligence and that this is [“F = T ∇ Sτ”]. In the mind of Wisner-Gross this equation helps to factor out different threads that impact on intelligence. F is seen as “to maximise future freedom of action (keep options open) while the strength of T and the diversity of possible accessible futures, S, up to some future time horizon, tau”. While this is quite a complicated idea, the point that he is trying to express is that intelligence likes its options open. He also questions the role that goals play in intelligent behaviour. But is a mathematical equation really able to predict human intelligence, and can it predict artificial intelligence? This is the points that Wisner-Gross set about to answer with his Ted video, providing examples that are best enjoyed through watching the video. He also suggests that if we could start all over again with intelligence, then one of the best ways things to do would be to build artificial intelligences or to better understand human intelligence and the way in which this seeks to “maximise future freedom of action and avoid constraints in its own future”.
Intelligence is what you do with information
Another question asked by long-time television producer, responsible for Blackadder and Spitting Image, questions what intelligence is also. Lloyd suggests that intelligence is in fact not what we know, as is commonly perceived, but rather what we do with that information. This can be likened to the knowledge of how to split the atom. It is helpful to know this information, but it would not be intelligent to use this information to blow up innocents with an atom bomb. Lloyd suggests that the information that all people should have is how to treat each other properly. This, argues Lloyd would demonstrate intelligence, rather than simply knowing lots of information. Perhaps it is this point above all that we should take away from the answer to the question: What is intelligence?
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.