What Is Intelligence: Understanding AI’s End Goal

    Have you ever asked yourself “Do I qualify as intelligent?”. Actually, intelligence is deeply rooted in the evolutionary history of life on Earth, because it evolved as a trait for survival and reproduction. It allowed our ancestors to solve problems, make decisions, and adapt to changing environments. You don’t need a high SAT score to tell you that you are intelligent. So, really, being human implies that we possess intelligence. For over a decade now, Artificial intelligence has been trying to simulate human intelligence in machines. What is so important about human’s intellect and why is it such a challenge to artificially replicate it? This article will unravel the enigma of intelligence and give you a clear idea.

    What Is Intelligence?

    The etymology of the word goes back to the Latin verb intellegere.

    intellegere (latin) → the acquirement, processing and storage of information

    From this point of view, intelligence tackles the cognitive and mental abilities of the human being. Actually, it’s a central concept in psychology and a multifaceted construct that extends beyond a single definition.

    The Psychometric Definition:

    • The psychometric perspective defines it as a single, measurable trait often quantified by an IQ test.
    • This definition suggests that it’s a general cognitive ability that influences performance on various mental tasks.
    • While IQ tests provide a numerical score, they do not capture the full spectrum of human intelligence, including emotional and practical aspects.

    The Cognitive Definition:

    • From the cognitive perspective, it involves mental processes such as memory, attention, problem-solving, and reasoning.
    • It emphasizes the capacity to process information efficiently and adapt to new situations.
    • This perspective views intelligence as a multifaceted construct that encompasses a wide range of cognitive abilities.

    The General Definition:

    Intelligence is defined as the mental capability that involves the ability to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend complex ideas, to learn quickly and to learn from experience. 

    In simple words, intelligence is both a thinking skill and the ability to adapt to and learn from life’s everyday experiences.

    Components of Intelligence

    One way to understand the complexity of intelligence is by examining its key components: 


    1- Reasoning:

    Definition: Reasoning refers to the mental process of drawing conclusions, making inferences, and applying logical thinking to assess and evaluate information or situations. Therefore, it’s crucial to decision-making.


    • Reasoning allows individuals to think critically, analyze complex issues, and make sound judgments.
    • It helps in connecting pieces of information, identifying patterns, and understanding cause-and-effect relationships.

    2- Problem Solving:

    Definition: Problem solving involves finding effective solutions to challenging or novel situations or tasks. It requires creativity, critical thinking, and adaptability to navigate obstacles and reach desired goals.


    • Problem-solving skills are essential for overcoming obstacles, making decisions, and achieving goals.
    • It encompasses various strategies, including algorithmic (step-by-step) problem-solving and heuristic (intuitive) problem-solving.
    • It involves identifying the problem, generating potential solutions, evaluating their effectiveness, and implementing the best course of action.

    3- Learning:

    Definition: Learning is a fundamental process that underlies intelligence. It refers to the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and information through experiences, instruction, and exposure to new stimuli. Consequently, it involves memory, comprehension, and the ability to apply new information to future contexts.


    • Learning is at the core of intelligence, allowing individuals to adapt, grow, and acquire new competencies throughout their lives.
    • It enables us to build on existing knowledge and apply it in novel situations.

    4- Perception:

    Definition: Perception is the cognitive process of interpreting sensory information from the environment, including visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory stimuli.


    • Perception shapes our understanding of the world. This includes recognizing patterns, discriminating between different stimuli to forming a coherent understanding.
    • It allows us to recognize objects, distinguish between different sensory inputs, and form coherent mental representations of our surroundings.

    5- Creativity:

    Definition: Creativity involves the generation of novel and valuable ideas, solutions, or products. So, it encompasses original thinking, divergent thinking, and the ability to approach problems from unconventional angles.


    • Creativity is essential for innovation, problem solving, and artistic expression.
    • It enables individuals to break free from established patterns and come up with fresh perspectives and solutions.

    What Factors Influence Intelligence?

    Researchers continue to study and debate the full spectrum of factors that contribute to intelligence, and the field is constantly evolving. But here are the most influential factors as of now:

    1. Genetics: Genetic predispositions play a significant role in an individual’s cognitive potential.
    2. Environment: Early childhood upbringing, education, nutrition, and life experiences shape intelligence. So, yes childhood trauma can make you smart.
    3. Culture: Cultural norms, values, and expectations influence cognitive development and definitions of intelligence within a given society.
    4. Neurobiology: Brain structure and function impact cognitive abilities.
    5. Health: Physical and mental health can affect cognitive functioning.
    6. Socioeconomic Status: Socioeconomic factors, such as access to resources and opportunities, can impact intelligence.
    7. Emotional Intelligence: The ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions also contributes to overall intelligence.

    How To  Measure It?

    These tests examine different aspects of intelligence, but may not be equally accurate for all people. So, scientists agree that they are not perfect assessments. But we sure psychopathically love a test to tell us exactly who we are, right? 

    • IQ tests: Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests are standardized tests that measure a person’s general cognitive ability. However, IQ tests have been criticized for potential cultural biases and limitations in capturing the full spectrum of human intelligence.
    • Performance tests: Performance tests measure a person’s ability to perform specific tasks, such as solving math problems, reading comprehension, or spatial reasoning. Performance tests are often used to assess a person’s skills for specific jobs or careers.
    • Neuropsychological tests: Neuropsychological tests assess a person’s cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, and executive function. Neuropsychological tests are often used to diagnose neurological disorders, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
    • Personality tests: Personality tests measure a person’s personality traits, such as openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. Personality tests are not typically used to measure intelligence, but they can be used to assess a person’s cognitive abilities.

    Theories Explaining Intelligence

    There are many theories that tried to define and explain intelligence through time. The following 5 are the most important and still regarded to this day:

    1- Spearman’s Two-Factor Theory (1904)

    Charles Spearman’s two-factor theory is a model that proposes that intelligence is composed of two factors:

    General intelligence (g):

    • Is a general mental ability that is involved in all cognitive tasks such as the ability to think logically, solve problems, and learn new things.
    • Spearman believed that g was the most important factor in intelligence.
    • it was responsible for the correlations between different cognitive tasks.

    Specific ability (s):

    • It is a set of specific abilities that are involved in different cognitive tasks.
    • For example, there are specific abilities for reading comprehension, mathematical reasoning, and spatial visualization.
    • Spearman believed that s was responsible for the differences in performance on different cognitive tasks.

    2- Cattell’s Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence (1963)

    Raymond Cattell’s theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence is a model that describes two different types of intelligence:

    Fluid Intelligence (gf):

    • Innate Abilities: it is rooted in innate cognitive abilities and is largely influenced by genetics.
    • Adaptability: It represents the capacity to solve novel problems, adapt to new situations, and think logically in abstract and non-verbal ways.
    • Biologically-Based: it tends to peak in early adulthood and gradually declines as individuals age, reflecting its biological basis.
    • Not Dependent on Education: It is less dependent on formal education and cultural experiences and is relatively stable over time.

    Crystallized Intelligence (gc):

    • Accumulated Knowledge: the accumulation of knowledge, facts, and information acquired through learning and experiences.
    • Dependent on Culture and Education: heavily dependent on cultural exposure, education, and environmental factors.
    • Increases with Age:  tends to increase with age because individuals accumulate more knowledge and expertise over time.
    • Less Susceptible to Aging Effects: Unlike gf, it is less susceptible to age-related declines and can even continue to improve with age.

    Cattell argued that gf and gc are two independent dimensions of intelligence where:
    gf → is more important for success in novel situations.
    gc → is more important for success in familiar situations.

    3- Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983)

    Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has revolutionized the way we think about human intellect abilities and its role in education. He proposed that there are actually 8 distinct, independent multiple intelligences, each representing unique skills and talents. 

    1. Linguistic intelligence: The ability to use language effectively, both verbally and in writing.
    2. Logical-mathematical intelligence: The ability to think logically and solve problems.
    3. Spatial intelligence: The ability to think in images and to visualize spatial relationships.
    4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: The ability to use one’s body effectively to solve problems and to create products.
    5. Musical intelligence: The ability to understand and create music.
    6. Interpersonal intelligence: The ability to understand and interact effectively with others.
    7. Intrapersonal intelligence: The ability to understand oneself and one’s own thoughts and feelings.
    8. Naturalistic intelligence: The ability to understand and appreciate the natural world.

    Gardner argued that everyone has all eight types, and people typically have different strengths and weaknesses in each area. Also, that “intelligence” is not a fixed trait, but rather something that can be developed and improved with practice.


    4- Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence (1985)

    Robert Sternberg’s triarchic theory proposes three components of intelligence: analytical ,creative, and practical. This theory shows the diverse nature of human cognitive abilities. 

    • Analytical intelligence: The ability to think logically and solve problems.
    • Creative intelligence: The ability to think outside the box and come up with new ideas.
    • Practical intelligence: The ability to use intelligence to solve real-world problems.

    Sternberg argued that all three types of intelligence are important for success in life. 

    5- Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Theory (1995)

    Daniel Goleman’s theory of emotional intelligence (EI) emphasizes the importance of understanding and managing emotions for personal and interpersonal success. Goleman argued that people with high EI are better able to manage stress, resolve conflict, and build strong relationships. They are also more likely to be successful in school, work, and life.

    Goleman’s theory of EI is based on five components:

    1. Self-awareness: The ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions.
    2. Self-regulation: The ability to manage one’s emotions in a constructive way.
    3. Motivation: The ability to use one’s emotions to motivate oneself to achieve goals.
    4. Empathy: The ability to understand and share the emotions of others.
    5. Social skills: The ability to build and maintain relationships and to influence others.

    Brief History of Intelligence

    This timeline highlights key moments in the historical development of intelligence as a concept and field of study. 

    1. Ancient Philosophy (4th Century BCE): Philosophers like Aristotle contemplate the nature of human intellect and reasoning.
    2. Renaissance and Enlightenment (14th-18th Century): Thinkers like Descartes and Kant explore human cognition and reason.
    3. Emergence of Psychology (Late 19th Century): Psychology becomes a formal discipline, with Wundt and James contributing to understanding human mental processes.
    4. Intelligence Testing (Early 20th Century): Binet-Simon Scale (1905) and the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales (1916) are developed, laying the foundation for IQ testing.
    5. Psychometric Theories (Early to Mid-20th Century): Spearman’s Two-Factor Theory (1927) and Cattell’s Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence (1941) are proposed.
    6. Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983): Howard Gardner introduces the idea of multiple intelligences, beyond the traditional IQ.
    7. Emotional Intelligence (1990s): Daniel Goleman popularizes the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) in psychology.
    8. Cognitive Neuroscience (Late 20th Century – Present): Advances in neuroscience provide insights into the neural basis of intelligence.
    9. Artificial Intelligence (Mid-20th Century – Present): The development of AI systems draws inspiration from human cognitive processes.
    10. Contemporary Research (Present): Ongoing studies explore the multifaceted nature of intelligence, its genetic and environmental influences, and its cultural dimensions.

    What Is AI’s End Goal?

    Debates persist about the role of genetics versus environment in determining intelligence, the impact of cultural biases in testing, and the potential for AI to replicate human intelligence. This notion is an extremely complex construct, therefore replicating it artificially is not an easy task. AI still has a long way to be as equal as human intellect, but that’s not its end goal. Actually, AI aspires to surpass human intelligence with reaching a super AI. Here is where we enter the I,Robot/Matrix/Terminator realm of  science fiction. We both know that’s never going to happen… these were just movies…I guess…


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