My Crackpot Theory of Intelligence - Dilbert Blog

My Crackpot Theory of Intelligence

Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy or opinion. It is not intended to change anyone’s beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

I find that I enjoy crackpot ideas as much as real ones, and sometimes more. My crackpot idea for today is that intelligence is nothing more than pattern recognition. And pattern recognition is nothing more than noting the frequency, timing, and proximity of sensory inputs. Language skill, for example, is nothing but recognizing and using patterns. Math is clearly based on patterns. Our so-called common sense is mostly pattern recognition. Wisdom comes with age because old people have seen more patterns. Even etiquette is nothing more than patterns.

If intelligence is nothing but sophisticated pattern recognition, we’d expect that the creatures with the most sensory faculties would evolve to be the smartest. The more you sense, the more accurate patterns your brain can form. A dog can sniff a mannequin and determine that it belongs in the class of “not living” things even though a mannequin looks like a person. The more senses employed, the better your pattern recognition.

If having more senses makes you smarter, in the evolutionary sense, we’d expect that monkeys would be smarter than clams. And sure enough, that’s the case. We’d also expect mammals to be smarter than fish because fish don’t do much sensing by touch with their little fins, except perhaps feeling hot and cold. Generally speaking, the creatures with sensitive hands and feet are smarter than creatures with hooves, e.g. monkeys are smarter than cows.

We’d also expect that the more heterogeneous the environment, the smarter the inhabitants would become because there would be more types of input coming through the senses every minute. In general, the creatures with the most varied environments are the ones that are highly mobile, and able to move from one place to another within a day. Elephants, for example, are relatively smart mammals and they can cover many miles a day.

My crackpot point in all of this is that in order to build computers with artificial intelligence, all we need is a robot with lots of sensory inputs (sound, sight, touch, smell, taste) plus a high degree of mobility, plus a pattern recognition and imitation program. And almost nothing more. Like a human baby, the robot would recognize patterns and grow more intelligent over time. When the robot learns to walk, by observing humans and imitating with its own body, it could change its location and start gathering more sensory experiences on its own. Its intelligence would grow as it recognized and stored more patterns.

You might need to seed the robot with a few patterns that humans seem to be born with. For example, human babies apparently recognize faces and can discern human moods easily. That could come in handy. You’d also want your robot seeded with some basic objectives, the way babies are born with the desire to eat and feel comfort from being held. If the robot had no basic impulses, it would just sit around.

A robot’s senses would be a bit different from human senses. In some cases the robot’s senses would be superior. A robot could potentially see better in the dark and hear a greater range of sound. Robots might sense electrical and magnetic fields, and so on. I’m not sure if a robot will have the sensations of touch and taste in the way humans experience them, but the robot could have some version of those senses.

My crackpot prediction is that robots will develop intelligence when they are designed with mobility, five or more sensory inputs, and spectacularly powerful pattern recognition processors. Intelligence will emerge automatically from those properties.

Compared to humans, robots can easily share their patterns with other robots via the Internet. That means any experience of one robot will be shared by all. It won’t take long for the first generations of robots with five senses and mobility to become a thousand times smarter than the smartest human. Eventually each new robot will be born with the intelligence of all existing robots as its starting point. Robots will use the cloud for storage and processing.

I give humanity thirty years of continued dominance on the earth. After that, the age of robots will be upon us. I realize this scenario is the basis for countless science fiction stories. All I’m adding is my prediction that it will happen sooner than you think. And it will all start when you see the headline “Scientists Design Robot Baby.”

[New: I will double down on my crackpot idea of intelligence being nothing but pattern recognition by saying that dreams are caused by your brain doing a bubble sort of your newest patterns to get them in the best order. I assume it’s hard to be conscious and also sort your patterns at the same time. If you wake up mid-sort, you might remember seeing the stripper in your dreams as your grandmother. It just means two patterns were sorting past each other on their ways to more accurate pattern storage.]