Intelligence: shifting up through the gears

Against the argument that we only use 10-20% of our brains it might be helpful to extend the technology metaphor of the various software programmes that run on it – computation, consciousness, reflection, identity, imagination – by seeing their operation in terms of the operation of gears. Thus, any manifestation of intellect that is stuck in first gear will only go so fast, however many revolutions per second it might generate. More efficiency and greater speed come by gearing up, and it will always be pretty difficult to imagine an engine that is screaming at the limits of a low gear, going on to win a big race in top gear.

Complicating matters more than a little is that those manifestations of intellect don’t gear up in the same way at the same rate, simultaneously. Within just a few generations of conceiving that a computer might exhibit such brute computational power that it would surpass a human chess champion, Deep Blue triumphed. But while Gary Kasparov, the defeated champion, noted elements of creativity in the computer’s play, at no point then or since was it noted that the computer displayed consciousness or even any senses of humour, irony, absurdity or identity.

An intriguing sidebar to the Deep Blue story occurred in Game One of the series when the computer made a move that was later determined by its creators to have been the result of a software bug. Imputing to the computer a degree of creative genius beyond his comprehension, Kasparov pocketed the win but was so unnerved that he failed to win another game. Perhaps one lesson from this anecdote is that human foibles can allow the operation of intellect to gear down as well as up.

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