The Yellow Brick Roadmap

Is human intelligence a roadmap for AI?

Peter Sweeney
Published in
7 min readJun 9, 2017

Every great project needs a roadmap. For many, the path to AI entails a deep understanding of human intelligence. If that seems obvious, you’ll be surprised how this story unfolds and the key role your expertise may play in it.

I’ve argued that human intelligence is bloatware, and bloatware can kill (or at least seriously delay) even the most determined projects. The exemplar of superhuman intelligence isn’t human intelligence, it’s the human invention of scientific discovery.

But even if you agree that automated scientific discovery is the right goal, isn’t a deep understanding of human intelligence prerequisite knowledge? Aren’t the most foundational ideas of neural networks and deep learning derived from this roadmap? And if not, what are the alternatives?

In this post, I’ll examine the arguments behind the human intelligence roadmap and why it should be treated with skepticism. I’ll also surface the key question for evaluating the merits of your own roadmap.

Is human intelligence our best and only example?

Jeff Hawkins, one of the most committed proponents of biology directed AI, opens his excellent IEEE Spectrum essay with the question, Why do we need to know how the brain works to build intelligent machines?

“The only example of intelligence, of the ability to learn from the world, to plan and to execute, is the brain. Therefore, we must understand the principles underlying human intelligence and use them to guide us in the development of truly intelligent machines.” — Jeff Hawkins

Jeff Hawkins (Numenta)

It’s a succinct answer, but the question deserves deeper consideration. The human brain is most certainly not our only example of intelligent systems. Humans (and other animals) exhibit much…



Peter Sweeney

Entrepreneur and inventor | 4 startups, 80+ patents | Writes on the science and philosophy of problem solving. | @petersweeney