A New Definition of Intelligence

Intelligence: An emergent system’s ability to respond to its environment in order to improve its conditions, perpetuate itself and maximize its future freedom of action. – Future Minds: The Rise of Intelligence from the Big Bang to the End of the Universe by Richard Yonck

In writing my latest book, Future Minds: The Rise of Intelligence from the Big Bang to the End of the Universe, it was essential to properly define intelligence in an appropriate context. However, my research led me to over 200 different definitions of this nebulous word, most of which were overly restrictive or naively broad. This is due in large part to intelligence being what AI pioneer Marvin Minsky called a “suitcase word”, a term he used to describe words having many meanings and associations. In a 1998 interview with Edge, Minsky said of suitcase-words (like ‘intelligence’, ‘intuition’ or ‘consciousness’): “all of us use these to encapsulate our jumbled ideas about our minds. We use those words as suitcases in which to contain all sorts of mysteries that we can’t yet explain.”

Because of this and for reasons I expand on throughout my book, I finally arrived at a broad definition that encompasses the ideas I’d been exploring.

Intelligence: An emergent system’s ability to respond to its environment in order to improve its conditions, perpetuate itself and maximize its future freedom of action.”

This allows intelligence to be seen much more as an almost inherent property of the universe, something that isn’t limited to a single species or substrate, but which is an ongoing optimization in those systems that are able to successfully perpetuate themselves into the future. Based on this, while it may take considerable time, it seems likely that advanced technological intelligences will one day become a reality.

Parsons School of Design Guest Lecture

I recently had the pleasure of giving a guest lecture at Parsons School of Design. My presentation, “Designing for a Differently Intelligent Future” is drawn from parts of my latest book, Future Minds. It was a lot of fun and as always, I think I enjoyed the Q&A the most. A big thank you to friend and trend analyst Tim Stock for inviting me to speak with his class. Let’s do it again!

Future Minds Book Launch

It was almost exactly half a year ago that the official book launch for Future Minds at Town Hall Seattle was postponed. We expected to have a packed house, but I cancelled it two weeks earlier as it became apparent that any sort of large gathering would be irresponsible given the impending pandemic. Six months later, it was finally time to return to THS, albeit virtually, for the “official” launch party! A huge thank you to Wier Harman, Shane Unger and everyone at Town Hall Seattle, as well as the evening’s official bookseller, Third Place Books.

Amazon Alexa Prize Finals – Team Emora Wins

Congratulations Team Emora! Amazon announced today that Emory University and their Emora socialbot are the winners of the 2020 Alexa Prize. Second Place was awarded to Stanford’s Chirpy Cardinal bot and Third Place was Alquist developed by the team from Czech Technical University.

Emory won with a 3.81 average rating (out of a possible 5.0), earning them the $500,000 top prize. Each of the past two years’ winners have exceeded the average rating of the previous year’s winner. The eventual goal of the competition is to achieve a 4.0 rating while conversing with a human interactor for a minimum of twenty minutes.

It’s been an honor to be a part of this innovative competition – my third year as an Amazon #AlexaPrize finalist judge. I look forward to seeing what next year’s competition brings and what all of the competitors do with their amazing talent in the future!

Future Minds – Emerging Intelligence Interview

Not surprisingly, the book launch of Future Minds at Town Hall Seattle had to be postponed, a decision I wholeheartedly support in the interest of public safety. But in lieu of that presentation (at least for now), the good folks at THS did an interview with me to offer a taste of what my book and presentation are about. You can read my interview in their blog, the Town Crier. Find out why our world is rapidly becoming more and differently intelligent and what this could mean for the future!

Exploring the Global Marketplace in Vietnam

What is the Future of the Global Marketplace? How will demographic shifts, climate change and continued increases in urbanization affect trade between different parts of our world? I had the amazing opportunity to speak about these topics at the U.S Embassy in Hanoi a few weeks ago. The audience of about 200 was very engaged and had many thought-provoking questions. It felt like a great learning experience all around!