I’m giving up ‘intelligence’ for 2024. That is, I’m not going to use the term ‘intelligence’ except to critique it as an inherently flawed construction firmly grounded in race science and unable to sustain the weight of current usage as a measure of cognitive ability that can help us assess human, animal, or machine-based capabilities.
It doesn’t do the work we want it to in the debate about our new generation of thinking machines, and it is too corrupted by its history, particularly in the context of intelligence ‘testing’, ‘intelligence quotients’ and the ranking of human beings ever to be rescued.
Just as the term ‘content’ necessarily flattens all forms of human creativity into something that can be packaged, bought and sold, so the word ‘intelligence’ adulterates any measure of cognitive capacity it is applied to and makes serious discussion impossible. It always carries with it the taint of experimental fraud, scientific racism and the vain attempt to compare the incommensurable. It has to be expunged from our discourse, so that we are forced to use more descriptive terms that hide less of what we are trying to convey.
Let’s talk about cognition and cognitive capacity, let’s talk of sentience and self-awareness and consciousness, let’s talk about world models and measures of ability to manipulate symbols, modify models, and affect the world. Let’s dig deep into ontologies and epistemologies and language games,. And if we must continue to use the term AI to describe the study and construction of thinking machines, let it be a term without an expansion, no longer an abbreviation (or a short acronym) but a term in its own right, usable in Scrabble for something other than a pale-throated sloth, with its own complicated etymology.
Note: I wrote this before the esteemed Simon Willison decided that ‘it’s OK to call it Artificial Intelligence‘, on the sensible grounds that ‘we need an agreed term for this class of technology, in order to have conversations about it. I think it’s time to accept that “AI” is good enough, and is already widely understood’. I agree – but can we make AI our chosen term of art, and not as an abbreviation?