Language and intelligence share a common thread. Maybe one is a consequence of the other. Either way, scholars sincerely consider language as a prominent topic in the field of Artificial Intelligence. But there’s more to the study of language than grammar parsing, parts of speech tagging, or semantic understanding. If we carefully examine our own words used to describe observations, we can gain a key insight about intelligence.

Take for example, this excerpt from a textbook chapter on water treatment.

When water containing giardia cysts is ingested, the organism senses the unique conditions in the digestive track of the host triggering it to break out of the cyst and attach itself to the intestinal wall of the host.

The words used to describe the organism are sense, break out, and attach. The personification of cells, viruses, and even subatomic particles is widespread in most scientific scripts. If we continue reading, we can really start to appreciate the brilliance of this microscopic cell.

As the organism is attached to the intestinal wall, it absorbs nutrients from the intestine while reproducing every 5 to 10 minutes generating millions of organisms in a short period of time.

Abstracting away from any biological context, it almost feels like this cell has a mind of its own. One last time, let’s look at the next line of text for the grand finale.

As the body finally pushes them out of the small intestine wall and they enter the lower intestine, they transform into their cyst form to protect themselves before they exit the body into the environment, and wait to be ingested by another host.

This cell enters, transforms, protects, exits, and waits. The lively language describing the organism brings cunning intelligence to an otherwise naive brain-less cell. We can entertain the idea that something whose processes are mediated by deterministic feedback loops can appear to us as having free-will.

The giardia cyst cell clearly does not have a brain; only the environment forces the cell to act as it does. In other words, the cell is nothing more than a reflection of its environment, just like how a flow of flower petals on a stream of water is characterized solely by the stream.

This is precisely the attitude needed for designing machines with minds.

We must set aside the concept of a brain, and think predominantly about how descriptive language may bring about life. It’s unnatural to digest, but Intelligence can instead be conceived as a social construct. And thus, modeling artificial intelligence requires a deeper appreciation of anthropology than currently respected.

Programmer, Researcher, and Author

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