Signs of Intelligence

By | 2014/06/16

We’ve seen recent media frenzy around the chatbot that impersonated a 13-year-old. Clearly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an exciting, yet still mysterious technology. In one of my Master’s classes, Decision Support Systems and Business Intelligence, we studied AI. Buried in the chapter was a list titled  “Signs of Intelligence” from an AI point of view. I thought it might be fun to consider these concepts when applied to average humans. Most of the signs were common sense, and these three really caught my attention:

Karate Students

Teachable Karate Students

Sign of Intelligence #1: Learn from experience

Some people adapt their behavior to new realities better than others. My karate instructor always said he’d take a “teachable” student over a natural athlete any day (which was good for me, since athletic was NEVER used to describe my abilities!). Teachable people apply lessons learned through experience to improve future results. Yet a surprising number of people always do what they’ve always done, yet somehow they expect a better outcome.  This is Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Better: adjust, adapt, improve.

Sign #2: Make sense of ambiguous or contradictory messages

Most leaders receive a significant amount of fuzzy information. It goes with the territory. We receive information from so many sources and that information is often filtered through the perspective of the person presenting.  In some cases, information will contradict our existing understanding, or counter information from other sources. The ability to filter out noise, judge accuracy, and perceive appropriate knowledge is a rare but important skill.

Sign #3: Recognizing and judging the relative importance of different elements in a situation

Have you ever chased down a particular issue, only to find that the answer didn’t contribute significantly to the problem you were trying to solve? Intelligent people (and intelligent machines) are able to filter out what isn’t important and focus on the most critical pieces. This can be exceedingly difficult, but is vitally important to making good decisions.

Ability to focus (on the important things) is VERY valuable, yet extremely rare in people. This is another lesson learned from karate. KIME, or tightening the mind, allows us to make better decisions by focusing our energy on the critical elements and ignoring distractions. This is sometimes referred to as “the flow” — that moment when you’re fully immersed in a focused activity. Wikipedia’s definition is this: “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does”.

The next time you have an important decision to make, practice eliminating all distractions and focusing all of your attention on the problem. It gets easier with practice. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true – if you never practice this skill, you will never have the ability.

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