Word Distinction: “Smart” and “Intelligence” Part 1

Today we feature the first part of our interview with Daniel Tynan on the distinction between the words, “smart” and “intelligent.” As we mentioned earlier, Dan has vast experience writing about technology in ways that are not only intelligent and smart, but also funny and fun. In addition to being a contributing editor for PC World and InfoWorld, he recently launched a new geek humor website titled eSarcasm, along with partner JR Raphael.

Which leads to one aspect of “smart” and “intelligence” we haven’t yet explored: Is having a sense of humor a sign of intelligence and/or smarts? After all, some people are described as having a “having a smart sense of humor.”

Science apparently hasn’t done much to see if there’s a connection, but one researcher did a study (a serious one, mind you) and found what appeared to be a link between the two. 

Regardless, Dan’s wit allows you not only to learn about technology, but occasionally with a grin while doing so. That’s pretty rare.

We feel fortunate to have Dan’s unique insight. Here’s Part 1:

– – –

You’re a technology writer and blogger. When did you first notice smart and intelligent being used to describe technology?
Well, “intelligent machines” is a phrase that has been around really since the first days of artificial intelligence (late 1950s) if not before. I think “thinking machine” or “thinking engine” was in use even before that. “Smart” is a later addition, I think – shorthand for distinguishing phones that use connected services from those that don’t. I am no OED (Oxford English Dictionary) for geeks, but I’m guessing it came into usage shortly after Blackberries took off, late 1990s or early 2000s.

First Smart Phone: Handspring VisorPhone

Smart is a very popular word right now in the personal commuting marketplace. Take smart phones. They used to just be cell phones before that mobile phones. Now, they’re “smart phones.” Why did that word get connected to them?
See above. ‘smart’ = ‘data’. In a sense, the first smart phones were Handspring units in the mid 1990s, which used the Palm Operating System bundled with a cell phone. They didn’t connect to the Internet, but they enabled people to use their data (contacts, calendars, notes) on their phones. Now “smart phone” really implies a ubiquitous Internet connection.

So why isn’t a phone called an intelligent phone? Often, my phone seems more intelligent than me.
Me too, brother.

Personally, the distinction I make between “smart” and “intelligent” (which I am not sure anyone else shares) is this: a “smart” device enables you to use data in new and useful ways. An “intelligent” device anticipates the information or services you need by adapting to your behavior and gives it to you without your having to ask for it. That’s much closer to the AI (Artificial Intelligence) concept. We are seeing software and Web sites that adapt to user behavior on a regular basis; this will become something that is matter of fact in a few years. Our homes will adapt to whomever is in the room – detecting your identity, changing lighting or HVAC settings or music, etc, as you walk in. They’re called “smart” homes now, but I think of them as “intelligent” homes. Cars, too. We will have commercially available self driving cars by the 2020 decade, if not sooner. They will adapt to changing traffic and road conditions much more quickly and accurately than humans.

Essentially, these devices learn. That’s what distinguishes “smart” and “intelligent” in my mind.

Is “smart” used more than “intelligent” simply because it’s shorter and snappier?  Or is there a true distinction between the two words?
See above. But I’m not sure that anyone else agrees with me.

– – –

Part II of Dan’s interview will appear later this week.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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One thought on “Word Distinction: “Smart” and “Intelligence” Part 1

  1. dan tynan says:

    thanx for the kind words, you make me sound smart–err, more intelligent? than I really am.

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