ÄLY: Talking about intelligence and feeling the room temperature rising

Are you looking for a topic that livens up a somewhat boring get-together party? Pick three words: intelligence, human, artificial. I guarantee they are a sure choice for putting into action a discussion that can fast escalate to heated arguments.

The three-letter Finnish word – ÄLY – means intelligence. I recently wrote about ÄLY in Finnish in my Tiedekokki –Science Cook – blog that can be found at the internet site of Tiede -magazine that popularizes research. If you, my reader, know Finnish you can read about ÄLY also from this link.

Finnish is a language that is often described as compact and “economic”. Simultaneous interpreters working in EU have told me they get a headache translating from Finnish into more verbal languages such as French. In addition, Finns often also speak in a compact manner – no extra words – just straight to the point. Listening to examples from an interpreter’s work I claim that a lot of experience and communicative intelligence is needed to get the speaking rhythms and pacing stitched together when translating between a language of few and one of many words.

A short course in Finnish

ÄLY is a good example of how the Finnish language works: By adding 2-4 letters after and before ÄLY, a variety of aspects on intelligence can be addressed. ÄLY is a noun. The adjective for an intelligent person is ÄLYkäs. The verb for being able to figure something out is ÄLYtä. ÄLYtön means something doesn’t make sense; it might also point to a stupid idea. ÄLYkkö is a person considered or considering him/herself as an intellectual. The word can have a positive or negative nuance depending on how it is used. If one claims a thing or system to be intelligent one just puts ÄLY before the thing/entity.

The fact that in my native tongue, the three-letter word ÄLY can be added also in front of an imaginable number of things is pretty ingenious. Artificial Intelligence – AI ¬ is in Finnish also a compact, short word – tekoÄLY. So, we really don’t need to shorten it any more. Due to ongoing debates on intelligence, ÄLY in its different versions is one of the most used Finnish words nowadays.

What is ÄLY?

How to define ÄLY – intelligence? How does it express itself? Are animals intelligent and in what ways? Might some species even be more ÄLYkäs – intelligent than humans? What is ÄLY embedded into a wide range of different objects, industrial production lines, vehicles on the ground, sea, air? Why do we usually compare human and artificial intelligence? Why do we forget animals and their different forms on ÄLY? Just think of the navigating skills of migratory birds, pigeons that can learn to identify cancer cells from microscopy slides prepared from tissue samples or a dog’s detective nose, to name a few examples of certain forms of ÄLY.

ÄLY acts as a powerful attention capturer in the endless stream of digital headlines flowing past our eyes and ears. The three letters are easy to remember. ÄLY popping up in media lures people into clicking open the page. So, one might claim that adding ÄLY into a headline is an ÄLYkäs (intelligent) move. (You caught me raw handed: just count how many ÄLY words this blog has! Click, click, click…)

Everybody has an opinion on ÄLY. Especially AI – tekoÄLY – programmed into an increasing number of different gadgets and internet search engines ruffles the feathers of many people. TekoÄLY (AI) is invading our everyday lives and environment with giant steps. We humans will surely be run over, squashed. We will end up as slaves of know-it-all robots and information crunching algorithms. Watch out, you have been warned, say the tekoÄLY critics.

I may already be one of those poor ones who have lost their own ÄLY, because for me the word tekoÄLY – artificial intelligence – actually means some form of fake intelligence programed in different ways into a variety of systems. The systems with embedded ÄLY behave in ways that have certain elements of “intelligence”. As an example: an internet search engine algorithm is able to do user profiling from the data of keywords and clicking habits. Through profiling tekoÄLY (AI) picks up information it figures the user wants to see/hear from a huge amount of fact, fake and fiction data going around in the digital data highways, swirling in data clouds and swimming in data lakes, However, the human user in the end chooses how to handle this info. An ÄLYkäs person uses one’s own ÄLY for deciding what to do with the data and knows it is ÄLYtön (stupid) to let an algorithm do the thinking.

Technology critics site internet pages claiming that today’s humans’ intelligence quotients (IQ) are lower than that of people of the Victorian age. I took a look at the research paper (published in 2013) quoted by digital media as testimony of this worrying trend in human ÄLY. In this paper a bit slower simple reaction time of today’s people was interpreted to mean that the intelligence of digital era humans is deteriorating. Reaction time is not at all a good measure of ÄLY. Thinking first and then reacting is often a more intelligent approach compared to reacting first and getting oneself into a tricky situation, which, in hindsight could have been avoided by a slower reaction: Think first then react, if needed think some more and then react. I would not, as a referee, have accepted this study to be published in a science journal. I admit the paper’s title linking together Victorian and modern time human intelligence is a clever one – a sure click -attractor.

Wandering wondering where to go. A person hiking in the woods with only a smartphone app as a navigating system at hand might get into trouble when the screen goes blank because of exhausted battery power or when “in the middle of nowhere” you are in a signal blackspot. A person who has a traditional paper map of the area as backup and knows how to determine north, east, south, west directions is being ÄLYkäs. Leaving oneself on the mercy of technology is ÄLYtön (not smart, stupid). Also, making use of the ÄLY of a nature intelligent person one may have the good fortune to meet while wondering “where am I” when wandering around can save the day. If one is nature travelling in a foreign country having also a pocket dictionary is an ÄLYkäs thing. Relying only on a smart phone translator app is Älytön.

Humans are often very good at non-verbal communication. My grandmother is a good example. When I was a little girl, researchers from different countries working at Aalto University in the Low Temperature Lab lead by my father, Olli V. Lounasmaa, spent many summer weekends at our summer place. I still see in my mind’s eye the vivid conversations where my talkative granny spoke Finnish with a Karelian accent and our visitors English in different accents. As a five-year-old I once sat on the lap of Nobel prize winner, inventor of transistor, John Bardeen. He was having a vivid pantomime discussion with my grandmother on how to prepare the Finnish berry desert – kissel, which Bardeen nicknamed “glue”. The two got along really well and continued to discuss making Karelian meat stew. This is human intelligence in communication at its best!

Quantifying intelligence or lack of it has been studied in a more or less solid scientific way since the 19th century. The French anthropologist and medical doctor Paul Broca (after whom a frontal lobe area of the brain, relevant for language, was named) and Francis Galton an English statistician and mathematician figured that scull measurements give a metric on intelligence. They took an anthropometric approach: a bigger skull size means the owner of the skull is smarter than the one with a smaller skull. Well, growing up tends to increases a person’s intelligence and skull size. Otherwise the approach of these esteemed scientists on ÄLY was ÄLYtön, pure nonsense.

IQ stands for intelligence quotient. The first tests, commissioned by the French Ministry of Education, where developed in 1904 – 1905 by two French psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon (1873-1961). The main purpose for using the tests was to identify normally intelligent children, who were just lazy and also to evaluate if the cognitive development of a child is behind or ahead of the average skill level of similar-age children. Now we know, that there are multiple dimensions of intelligence and a child can be mathematically or verbally at a different level than in social or motor skills. We also know that test performance does not predict the further development of different forms of ÄLY. A wide range of factors such as what interests and motivates a person or a person’s opportunities to learn play an important role.

“Learn to be a genius”

Since the first published Binet-Simon IQ test, there has been a boom of different types of IQ-tests promising to pick up geniuses. Most of the tests are not validated in any way and those that are based on intelligence research measure only a narrow skill set. It is also quite easy to improve one’s performance by doing different tests and their variations repeatedly. One can become a master in performance speed or figuring out “hidden rules”. Practice makes perfect. What this in reality shows is a person’s ability to learn. Life, for all of us is about learning. So, do these tests tell something profoundly important about a person’s intelligence level? Maybe perseverance, not giving up and believing in oneself are some of the qualities the tests capture.

A recent review in 2017 by Phillip Ackerman addresses the very known problems of IQ tests. The laboratory tests do not provide reliable results on how a person performs in daily life situations and requires different types of problem-solving skills. Also, the environment in which a person is making choices plays a big role. Hiking in the forest compared to an urban environment requires different knowledge and skills. A difficult area to measure is social intelligence – the ability to identify ques of polite or non-polite behavior and understand differences in culture-based behavior and being able to learn and adapt to different ways of communication. Behavior in different social settings requires mental flexibility. Here the human ÄLY exceeds that of e.g. robot ÄLY. A totally other issue is the fact, that a culturally stupid robot might be more easily socially tolerated than an actual human behaving in a stereotypical robot-like way.

Balancing emotional and logical ÄLY in an intelligent way

Which is more important, emotional or logical intelligence? In this ongoing ÄLY debate, emotional intelligence is currently more in the spotlight. In my opinion both the better. The ÄLY part has to do with balance and the ability to understand that the ratio of emotional and logical ÄLY is not constant but needs to be adjusted. Is this an area of ÄLY humans can master better than robots? The picture shows the “emotional, sociable” Kismet robot spending its pension days at the MIT museum. Youtube videos show how Kismet is able to express a few very rudimental facial expressions. Kismet also flaps its ears as a part of emotional expression. Maybe it picked up this from dogs?

The ability to tune into one’s own emotions and understand their origin is a form of ÄLY that I do not see robots getting a hang of. It is challenging also for humans and understanding the risks of misinterpretations is ÄLYkäs (important, smart) to remember. What about collective/shared ÄLY? Some believe collaboration of a group of intelligent human minds solves best wicked problems. Others claim that stupidity in crowds is as contagious as the flu virus resulting in ÄLYtön behavior.

A review in the 2017 October special issue of Science Magazine on big challenges in neuroscience asks “What is consciousness and could machines have it?” I predict defining consciousness will be one of the hot topics of heated discussions for coming unforeseeable years. Humans are researching how human brains function. Might tekoÄLY do a better job? Or should humans and AI entities team up?

Considering the complexity of intelligence and the known problems on how to measure different aspects of ÄLY, it is ÄLYtön (makes no sense, stupid) to get into heated arguments about who/what is more intelligent: The human, animals, robots, data crunching algorithms, tekoÄLY (AI) embedded into different types of gadgets, self-driving cars, “thinking refrigerators” or whatever.

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