Word Distinction: “Smart” and “Intelligent” Introduction, Part 1

Last week’s blog topic on word distinction featured the difference between “weather” and “climate” and this week we move to “smart” and “intelligent.”

Again, they are two words that seem similar – almost interchangeable – but are they?

Today, we run into these words with many of the purchases we make – smart phone anyone?

How about a smart TV? Samsung created one that reacts to your gesture or voice commands. It even has face recognition. James Bond would love smart TV, no doubt.

Samsung’s Smart TV

Apparently, you need some serious brains to figure out this word distinction because it can get a bit confusing since the words are so closely related.

Oh, some experts say it can be simple, particularly when it comes us, people. Our intelligence is measurable. It’s set. You can’t improve it. What you are born with is what you’ve got. Einstein went back for seconds apparently.

Albert Einstein

Smart? That’s what you gain through learning and life experiences. It’s also used to describe how you apply that knowledge. You can be street smart, for instance. Or book smart. Or a smart dresser. People say things such as, “That was a smart move.” Or, “That took some real smarts.”

Here’s one way of looking at it: If a person has an IQ that’s off the charts, but is never sent to school to gain knowledge, his or her smarts would be severely limited. Indeed, that person – who wouldn’t be able to read and write or do simple math equations – would appear intelligently stunted, even though that’s not the case.

Here’s good news? Even if you’re not the most intelligent person in the world, you can teach yourself to be smarter. At least that’s the opinion of University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Art Markman, who wrote the book, Smart Thinking.

As he noted to KUT public radio in Austin: “If you think about it, we spend a lot of time focusing on intelligence tests and ‘is someone smart to begin with?’ and we track kids from early on in school. But the fact is, while there are definitely difference between people in how they score on intelligence tests, so much of what influences how effective we are as thinkers in the world depends on what we know and our ability to use our knowledge. And that’s really under our control.”

Here, he talks in more detail about his book.

OK. So “smart” and intelligent have distinct meanings when it comes to our brains.

But the two words are being used interchangeably more and more – most noticeably in the technology field. And that’s where it gets confusing. Power companies are coming up with grids they call both “intelligent” and “smart.”

Maybe you drive a “smart” car.  Perhaps you work in an “intelligent” building.

Smart Car

See? Who doesn’t have a headache already.

But really smart (or is it intelligent?) people say there is a difference in those two words even when it comes to science and technology. Gary Bradski is a senior scientist at Willow Garage, a robotics application incubator in Menlo Park. He also holds a joint appointment as Consulting Professor in Stanford University’s Computer Sciences Department. So he’s an intelligent (or smart) guy, no question. His take on smart/intelligent, when it comes to technology:

“Smart phones are tactical, they are not used for planning,” he explained to us via email. “You want them to come up with email and games quickly. A robot would be intelligent if it could learn from observing other people, learn operational plans and efficiently manage spaces. It would be smart if it learned new objects quickly.”

Machines would be intelligent if they could think, sort of like the way people do. That means reacting to a situation and learning from it. Or being able to reason. In the field of “artificial intelligence,” or AI, those are among of goals. Right now, machines do what we tell them to do. If you had a few too many drinks and decide to call an old flame, your smart phone will dutifully make the connection even though that’s not a very, well, smart thing to do. But an intelligent phone would be able to remember the last time you made a similar decision, recognize it was not a good one, and learning from that, not only not make the call, but make an appointment for you to see your therapist.

We will explore more of the difference between “smart” and “intelligent” in our second part of this introduction, which will appear later this week. And, next week we’ll hear from an industry expert his take on the way these words could and should be used.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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One thought on “Word Distinction: “Smart” and “Intelligent” Introduction, Part 1

  1. Nice discussion. Thanks for the mention of my work!

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