Ari Qayumi


The Limits of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a digital computer or computer-controlled robot made or produced by something not naturally occurring, to have the ability to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings (Britannica). Before we dive into that further though, we need to understand the meaning of intelligence without the ‘artificial’ descriptor.

What is Intelligence?

Here are some definitions that people use1:

“…the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations:…the skilled use of reason: the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)”

Noah Webster, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

“Intelligence is the computational part of the ability to achieve goals in the world. Varying kinds and degrees of intelligence occur in people, many animals and some machines.” 

– John McCarthy, wrote the paper that coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’2

“…the essential, domain-independent skills necessary for acquiring a wide range of domain-specific knowledge – the ability to learn anything. Achieving this with ‘artificial general intelligence’ (AGI) requires a highly adaptive, general-purpose system that can autonomously acquire an extremely wide range of specific knowledge and skills and can improve its own cognitive ability through self-directed learning.”

Peter Voss

As you can see, other people define intelligence as a snapshot in time of a state of knowledge and belief of the world with regard to how intelligent beings relate to and interact with the world across time and space. In casual terms, intelligence is knowing not to step on broken glass and knowing how to avoid stepping on broken glass. 

Here’s the thing, I was trained to see the world differently at the Stanford Behavior Design Lab

And the result? I define intelligence as not stepping on the glass regardless of the environment.

To put it another way, we all know that staying fit is good for our health and happiness. And we all know various strategies to stay fit (i.e., sleep, hydrate, eat cleanly, exercise, etc.). But are people actually taking these steps? Nope. Well, at least that’s what the data shows; within the next decade alone, McKinsey cited the wellness market on track to hit beyond $1.5T. 

Being able to think about and understand human behavior clearly is hard enough, let alone trying to act on that in times of internal and/or external chaos. So, let me be clear, for the sake of my work thus far and until I define otherwise, I rely on the definition as stated by S. Legg and M. Hutter:

“Intelligence measures an agent’s ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments.”

What is Ability?

Ability is having the knowledge and capability to do something diligently. It determines whether or not you possess the means to do something. 

Ok. So. Bear with me. What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is what one has learned through the acquisition of facts, information, and skills through experience and/or education.

So let’s address the elephant in the room. Who taught you those facts? Where did you learn that information? What are your biases? And how has that influenced your behavior?

As teaching and learning are at the core of my research, I’m drawn to the root that influences how we obtain knowledge: our exposure to ‘lore’. 

A lore is a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject or held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth. 

So it seems that therein lies the limits of ‘intelligence’ as defined today.

How does this lead to oversight in ‘Artificial Intelligence’ implementation?

The intelligence that drives most technological creations is from knowledge held by a small subset of the population. 

As technology is how we apply knowledge to create tools to solve problems, this begs the question: what better, more profitable outcomes could we achieve if we included intelligence from a larger set of humanity?  

This is the future of what lies beyond artificial intelligence. A world of tools built for your experiences, community, and aspirations. To be successful at this requires not only the coordination of wisdom but also the continued, dynamic awareness of the ever-evolving, diverse body of traditions and knowledge. This is what I define as ‘mindful intelligence’.

1 After reviewing over 70 collected definitions of intelligence, not one mentioned any forms of the word “market” or “aspiration” and only one mentioned the words “value” and “product” within the same sentence. (