The current rising topic on the media - and life in general! - is Artificial Intelligence (AI). I have generally ignored its increasing prominence warily, but recently its power became more personal to me when a friend introduced me to the ability for an AI bot named “Clyde” to nearly instantaneously provide a twelve page document on how to prevent war, including setting the priorities of how one might reach that goal. Given I have been searching for this answer for decades now, I got interested in how this amazing process could occur. My friend could even interact in real time with “Clyde" by asking follow-up questions and getting instantaneous responses. (If interested you can read the discussion with “Clyde” below.*) Many of you may already be working with AI programs - whether we are aware of them or not - but for me this was a wake up call.. And it got me thinking about what it actually means to be intelligent. What does it mean to have intelligence? And then I want to know whether AI will actually manage to help me keep track of every thing there is to know - or even to create - and all I will have to do is trust in its benevolence. (Aha, says my doubting Thomas self, there’s the “rub.” What am I being asked to trust?)
So I began to wonder about what intelligence is anyhow. Clearly during most of my life intelligence meant it was a measurable assessment of an IQ test that established a marker for how smart we are as a god-given gift of birth. Then mercifully in the 1980’s Howard Gardner introduced the concept of multiple intelligences, eight of them, and intellectual intelligence that got measured on an IQ test was only one of them.* (See below for the others) So it turns out that one child may not be good at English and history, but knows everything about how car motors function; or another child hates math but is a terrific at inter-personal relationships and is the caregiver and friend of everyone in the class; or another child can’t who may have been considered mentally slow is a gifted, natural athlete. All these kinds of intelligence are on a “mix and match” basis of course, but the point is that intelligence becomes expanded to include a range of often personal, unique, exceptional capacities about how we function in the world and establish a truer measure of our “intelligence.” I would add that most of us are very grateful for this spectrum of intelligence, both because it is so important that a variety of us have special capacities to support our communities in medicine, construction, and the arts, among others, but also because each of us is allowed to better appreciate the gifts we have and not feel diminished by our limitations.
Which brings me to attempt to define intelligence in a much more inclusive way. The classic dictionary definition of intelligence is "the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” I would add that a more profound sense of intelligence is the ability to creatively take in and imaginatively respond to what we have perceived as in beauty, song, art, emotions or some other expressive medium which broadens our intrinsic gifts that define our intelligence. But with this definition we can also respect the high level of intelligence to the natural world as we realize the extraordinary complexity with which all plants and animals exchange signals and adapt to their environments and surroundings constantly. I think, for example, of the unimaginable (for me) intelligence it takes for a bird to fly at full speed through the trees, around corners, and suddenly, precariously but unerringly, light on a small branch or our bird feeder. Instinct, maybe, but equally possible is that the bird is simply more intelligent than I am. And wouldn’t it also be true that a plant must constantly adapt to its environment as it discerns how to feed itself and survive. From this perspective creation is a universe of intellect within which all of us uses our often extraordinary degree of intelligence to cope with life.
For me, then, intelligence is a process of making meaning by receiving and evaluating information, both to help us cope and survive, but also with a sense of wonder, humility, and gratitude, perhaps in what can be described as a kind of prayer. My goal then, for what I want to claim as my intellectual capacity, is to maintain a clear-eyed analysis of my surroundings but always with a soft focus uplift of creativity and awe.
I am beginning to understand how the application of the power of AI will enable and enhance analytical comprehension and application to science and the whole range of intellectual pursuits, and I can only hope AI’s still evolving capacity will somehow be harnessed for the common good. But for it to do so some part of our humanity will need to develop and apply ethical principles that maintain a reverence for life that transcends and grounds the profound revolution to the meaning of life that AI portends.
And as for me, I will try to pay attention and respect those minds and hearts who truly believe AI is the benevolent future, but I will also continue to hold the whole process up in a silent prayer of the hope that it is truly the way intelligent life is meant to evolve. And as I age I will likely only observe this revolution from a slow lane, yes, with all due respect, but also with a wary prayer that humanity will not get ahead of its Divine Guide and purpose.
Peace and grace to you,
* “Clyde” reflects on war. Please click here to read the entire discussion on the tomewellconnections website.
**Howard Gardner theorizes there are nine different types of intelligences consisting of: Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalist. For a more comprehensive presentation on Gardner’s theories see https://www.verywellmind.com/gardners-theory-of-multiple-intelligences-2795161