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

As we learned in our first part of the introduction in word distinction between “smart” and “intelligent,” there is indeed a difference between the two words, according to many experts.

Smart is using knowledge we’ve gained in a, well, smart fashion. Intelligence is our capacity to reason and think. It’s finite. It can’t be improved upon.

As a species, we’ve always been fascinated by the concept of creating machines that have human qualities, particularly being smart or intelligent. And we’ve had considerable success creating smart machines. The telegraph? For its time, that was a pretty smart tool and probably forced many carrier pigeons into early retirement.

A washing machine? If you were beating clothes on a rock in a stream to get them clean, a washing machine must have seemed like a pretty smart way to do the job in comparison. A dishwasher? A coffee maker? All smart machines, no question.

And today we have the smart phone, which is really, really smart, given that it can give you directions, report the latest news and weather and challenge your fine motor skills with a game of Angry Birds.

But what about creating intelligent machines?

In science fiction, all sorts of machines do all sorts of very cool things.  If you’re a Baby Boomer, no doubt you remember the robot from the TV show “Lost in Space,” which sounded the well-known warning, “Danger Will Robinson!” That robot seemed pretty intelligent.

Believe it or not, you can buy a replica of one, according to this post in Robot Living.

Danger, Will Robinson!
(Credit: CBS)

Star Wars brought us two famous robots, C-3PO and R2-D2. R2-D2 couldn’t talk, but he (she?) sure appeared intelligent helping rescue Luke and the gang from a number of close calls by what appeared to be quick thinking. Then there’s HAL 9000, the computer in the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. That dude was creepy intelligent. He could do all sorts of human-like things, including reading lips, which is how he learned he was to be shut down. He wasn’t going for that, of course. So poor astronauts started doing the Big Sleep, thanks to HAL.

HAL 9000
(Credit: MGM)

So how much of this stuff is reality today? According to the novel based on the Space Odyssey movie, HAL became operational on Jan. 12, 1997, in Urbana, Ill. That was 15 years ago. But, as far as we know, there is no HAL-type computer able to do such remarkable human-like things.

Yes, smart/intelligent people have created computers that have beat chess masters and Jeopardy champions. But can they think? Are they intelligent? Or are they simply really, really smart, meaning they take all the information that’s been programmed into them and merely apply it well.

Many experts say it’s the latter, for now at least.

Our machines, while amazingly smart, are doing what they are programmed, by humans, to do. They are not, well, thinking outside of the box. A number of experts believe that we’re still a ways off from creating machines that are truly intelligent.

For instance, there were some playful jabs toward Google and its recent big announcement that a network of computers did this most remarkable thing: It identified cat faces from YouTube videos. One headline from a tech blog didn’t give it much hoopla: “Someone Call Sarah Connor, Google’s Brain Machine Learned to Recognize Cats.” Sarah Connor was the heroine in the “Terminator” movies, who faced the very mean and very focused Terminator robots. But could they recognize cats?

Google’s accomplishment, however, was heralded by many as a significant step in the field of “artificial intelligence” or AI. That’s because humans didn’t tell the computers what to seek. They did it on their own. HAL would be proud.

Creating intelligent machines is a tough challenge. One hurdle is explained by University of Louisiana professor Istvan Berkeley in a paper, “What is Artificial Intelligence?”

“For most people, if they know that President Clinton is in Washington, then they also know that President Clinton’s right knee is also in Washington. This may seem like a trivial fact, and indeed it is for humans, but it is not trivial when it comes to AI systems. In fact, this is an instance of what has come to be known as ‘The Common Sense Knowledge Problem’. A computational system only knows what it has been explicitly told. No matter what the capacities of a computational system, if that system knows that President Clinton was in Washington, but doesn’t know that his left knee is there too, then the system will not appear to be too clever. Of course, it is perfectly possible to tell a computer that if a person is in one place, then their left knee is in the same place, but this is only the beginning of the problem. There are a huge number of similar facts which would also need to be programmed in. For example, we also know that if President Clinton is in Washington, then his hair is also in Washington, his lips are in Washington and so on. The difficulty, from the perspective of AI, is to find a way to capture all these facts. The Common Sense Knowledge Problem is one of the main reasons why we do not have as yet the intelligent computers predicted by science fiction, like the HAL 9000.”

So it might take some time before we see a machine that can do intelligent things, such as design airline seats that are actually spacey and comfortable. We humans apparently can’t do it.

We are fortunate to have Daniel Tynan as our guest blog interviewee on the distinction between “smart” and “intelligent,” whose take on the subject will be published in two parts next week on our blog. Dan has a wealth of experience writing about technology in an intelligent (smart) and funny fashion. A contributing editor for PC World, InfoWorld.com, and Family Circle magazine, he recently launched a new Geek Humor Web site titled eSarcasm, along with partner JR Raphael. Additionally, he’s a television and radio commentator.

Tune in next week for his lively thoughts.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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