Amplified intelligence for everyone, part 2: A useful definition of intelligence. [OC]

In Part 1 I asserted that the average person is badly losing the intelligence race. Many people in the middle are feeling the squeeze from software automation, robotics, and perhaps even strong AI.

So it's time to define intelligence. This is what we'll be amplifying in individuals and it's the same thing that organizational computers and software are already amplifying. The key to this whole approach is a view of intelligence that a) makes intuitive sense b) does not contradict our current understanding and c) allows for a simple software implementation on an existing personal computer.

Reference points

First, what intelligence isn't. It's not IQ, EQ, multiple intelligences, or any such typical measure. It's not knowledge, intellect, cognition, or wisdom. Nor is it street smarts or business sense. But at the same time, this new definition needs to include all of those ideas because they are only incomplete, not wrong.

In business and government, intelligence refers to competitive capacity. It's the applied ability to sustain (and grow, if possible) operations in a hostile environment. Continuity first, and then growth. This involves early recognition of threats along with effective responses, establishing long-term goals and progressing toward them, quickly adapting to changes, and aggressively capturing (or creating) opportunities. Quality information is critical for a sharp vision of the future, a requirement for success, so it's no surprise that organizations have an insatiable appetite for it. And for computers to process the information. And people to wrangle the computers. And so on.

Blackberry suffered a sobering failure of intelligence in their denial of the iPhone's appeal, and so Balsillie and Lazaridis get a black mark. Same for Kodak's leadership with digital cameras. IBM managed to avoid a calamity, so Lou Gerstner is apparently a genius. But there's tough adaptation happening in large organizations throughout the world over much longer intervals, requiring a great deal of intelligence. We just don't hear about it until something goes terribly wrong, Enron style.

A general view

To get right down to it, intelligence involves three components:

An agent (e.g. entity, organism, structure, self, etc)

An environment in which the agent is immersed

Information transfer between environment and agent

All three are required. If any are missing, there is no intelligence because the concept isn't even possible. But the three components are not intelligence in themselves.

Most generally, intelligence is the capacity of an agent to align with its environment. It's the glue connecting the three mandatory components into a coherent system.

Changes in an environment provide information to an agent which can align itself accordingly. Any activity by an agent then provides information back to its environment, which consists of other agents engaging in the same process. The result over enough time is a fluid yet tightly connected system.

Yes, this also describes organic evolution, but I take an even broader view so the term alignment fits better than adaptation. Every organism, however simple and small, is an agent. Inorganic entities – whether abstract like corporations or concrete like rocks and atoms – are also agents. Every identifiable entity in the physical world has an environment, and everything which exists involves information transfer (even if very slow) between agent and environment. So intelligence is literally everywhere.

Measuring intelligence

All else being equal, a longer-lasting corporation is more intelligent than one that collapses earlier. A larger corporation is more intelligent than a smaller one. A deeply entrenched corporation is more intelligent than one with superficial effect. Each of these factors reflects a capacity to align with an environment, whether over time, space, or complexity. Corporations succeeding across all of these key dimensions are especially noteworthy.

And it's the same for individuals. For you, for me, for everyone. To what degree are you, right now, aligned with your environment? That's the measure of your intelligence. Think of it as your aggregate social effect. If you don't fit the culture, or don't speak the language, or are afraid of taking risks, you'll probably have almost no effect. If you make the right connections, send the right message, and package that message in the way people expect then you'll have a much greater effect.

How you achieve your effect, or why, or whether it was blind luck is of no concern to the universe. So it's with a heavy heart I inform you that Britney Spears is several orders of magnitude more intelligent than you are. As is David Beckham. So it goes.

All else being equal, of a pair of twins, the more intelligent one is the one who lives longer. Also the one whose cat video went viral, while the other's flopped. And the one whose pulp romance made national bestseller while the other's Origin of Species is ignored. Or simply the more sociable one. Clearly a real situation is much more complex than these contrived examples, but the point is that only the aggregate effect matters, nothing else. Like physics.

By looking at intelligence this way, yours can now be compared with everyone else's as well as any organization's. You can also compare with your past self. Also, there's no hard upper limit to the measure of intelligence; it can increase indefinitely given tight enough alignment. With this view, all individuals and all organizations end up on the same playing field, playing the same game by the same rules. Now you can see how badly you're getting your butt kicked. [Note 1]

It's no wonder why this view is unpopular (and many examples are even more distasteful), but I contend that it is useful. If you've ever been mystified by human behavior, whether as organizations, groups, or individuals, consider the idea that we each possess an intuitive understanding of this view of intelligence and an innate ability to measure and compare its real aggregate effects, which forms the basis of our behavior. Mystification occurs when we conflate intelligence with IQ, or morality, or any other idea of what "should" be. It's also easy to be mystified when we believe human intelligence is special in anyway. Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe this view is useful nonetheless. Anyway.


If you're hung up on IQ, or intellect, or how bright and wonderful your friends think you are, then it may help to view those ideas as being ingredients to a complex dish. Are they helpful? Sure. Are they everything you need? Absolutely not.

The universe does not give two shits about you, your brainpower, or your intent. Reality is harsh, competitive, and complex, as indicated by our tendency to distance ourselves from it. Any ideas you hold that pull you away from reality – such as that you're a good person who deserves good things, or the world owes you a fair chance, or that you are super smart but simply aren't applying yourself – also reduce your potential for effect. Those ideas are very directly reducing your intelligence, which is another way of saying they are sabotaging your survival prospects and reducing the chances of reaching your goals (whatever they are). We live in a physical world where only actions matter; what are you doing?

What the organizations dominating us have in common – as well as Britney Spears and David Beckham and pretty much everyone else we've heard of – is that they are tightly, broadly, and unapologetically aligned with their environment. Which is reality. They got positioning over us through well-considered action; if they lose sight of that fact they will become irrelevant.

Alright, I get it, you hate me now. It gets better though. In the next part I'll connect this view of intelligence with the general patterns underlying your personal reality. Doing so lets us transition into the idea of a digitized intelligence amplifier that applies equally well to everyone.

[Note 1] How intelligent was Google ten years ago compared to now? In terms of revenue, it's about $3.2B for FY2004 vs $66B for FY2014. Market cap was about $45B vs about $350B. So roughly an order of magnitude. Clearly not the whole story, but a reasonable hint. Active-user numbers would give another hint, total hits another, and total "eyeball" time an even better one. Rest assured that Google tracks these metrics very closely. About as closely as you track your Reddit karma, blog hits, and Facebook likes.

Try comparing Google's eyeball time – the total time anyone has spent using its products (e.g. search, GMail, YouTube, Maps, Android, etc.) – with the total time anyone has spent looking at your products (e.g. comments, blog posts, videos, designs, emails, art, photos, novels, the physical you, anything you). The difference is roughly a dozen orders of magnitude. As in trillion to one, give or take a few zeros. Huge, and that's only one organization.

For even more fun, try estimating Britney Spear's effect – eyeball and ear time – and compare it to your own. Ouch!

As ever, I'm happy to discuss and welcome thoughtful criticism. This content has not yet been published elsewhere.

Submitted June 11, 2015 at 01:02AM by MagisterLuddite

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