The intelligence of a 13 year old boy

Saumya Kharbanda
Sep 23, 2015 · 3 min read

Eugene Goostman managed to pass the Turing test last year by carrying out conversations with a panel of thirty judges and convincing them that they were talking to a human. Eugene was designed to portray the personality of a 13-year old boy from Ukraine, with the intention that 13-year old boys are “not too old to know everything and not too young to know nothing”. During conversations, Eugene would respond to the interrogators by ignoring questions, making inappropriate comments, and occasionally launching into a non-sequitur about video games — all of which do sound like traits of a particularly ill-mannered 13 year old. A lot of skepticism and controversy has followed Goostman’s “success”, most notably the criticism of the Turing test that it only proves whether or not a machine can imitate a human, and is not truly a test of intelligence.

The skepticism surrounding Eugene’s “success” brings to mind this incidental question: Can a human 13 year old boy convince a panel of judges that he is intelligent?

The situation demands a definition of intelligence and of the criteria that need to be fulfilled by a machine in order to truly be considered intelligent. In my opinion, these should be curiosity and imagination.

Curiosity is the deep and persistent desire to know, and to seek answers. The motivations behind curiosity are explained by psychologists in two ways. The first theory posits that curiosity is an inherently human trait that is born with us, much like thirst or hunger. The second states that it is a reaction to something that doesn’t fit into our understanding of the world. If we see something out of the ordinary, we are immediately drawn to the challenge of understanding why. This drive to understand world has taken us everywhere from the depths of the ocean to the edge of our solar system. The constant, unfettered urge to learn is that mark of an intelligent mind, one that is constantly assessing, analysing, and reacting to the world around us.

The other trait I mentioned is imagination. Imagination lets us explore ideas and concepts that are not part of our immediate environment, or even in all of reality. It supports many of our other mental processes, such as planning, hypothetical reasoning, comprehension, and creativity, and also lets our mind create realistic-feeling scenarios as we sleep. Imagination can be seen as a process that can be seen in contrast to perception. When we perceive something, we process it by attaching meaning to it and thus create a memory. Imagination allows us to take this memories and create a new image from it. This ability to envision and create indicates an intelligent mind.

I see both these processes of the mind as intrinsically linked, constantly feeding off of each other. With these, we are able to take the mental faculties that are traditionally markers of an intellect — reason and understanding — and push them to a whole new level. I can consider any being, organic or mechanical, that is able to exhibit these behaviors, as an intelligent being.

To answer my question: it seems unthinkable to measure the intelligence of a 13 year old boy based solely on his conversational abilities, and how truly unfortunate such a judgment would be. Such a judgement does indeed require a lot more thought an consideration — and before it is passed, one must question the need for it in the first place.

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