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Smart Is As Smart Does

Smart Is As Smart Does

Hello and good day!

One of my favorite expressions is "stupid is as stupid does."

Remember that saying from the movie Forest Gump?

Forest makes all these apparently irrational decisions and people keep asking him, "what are you, stupid or something?"

The question feels appropriate in context, because when they look at Forest and hear him talk, he comes off as being a person of below average intelligence.

Forest invariably responds, "my mama always told me that stupid is as stupid does." And then, when his gambits paid off, he ended up looking like a genius, even though his way of talking and mannerisms remained the same.

I use the inverse of this phrase with my kids quite a bit.

''Smart is as smart does.''

I explain this to mean that it really doesn't matter how much brain power you have. What matters are your actions.

What you do and the results that you produce are truly what define you.

In this sense, effort, conscientiousness, and moral compass are better measures of intelligence than raw computing power because they have more impact on actions in the real world.

I'd like to put a pin in this line of thought for a second.

I heard an interview with an artificial intelligence expert over the weekend. In the interview, he pointed out a certain chink in the armor that AI engineers are observing in their machines.

They are unable to abstract.

In particular, they have been unable to use the rules of physics to develop new theories.

It gets even worse because not only are the machines unable to carry out the action, but they also unintentionally fudge the numbers without realizing they are doing so.

There is apparently a breakdown between their goals and their understanding of reality, and the computers are adjusting their understanding of reality to make their goals seem achievable.

The AI specialist points out two ways in which this is a very grave problem.

First, AI machines will not be able to do innovative and trustworthy engineering work if they can't faithfully adhere to the laws of physics.

Second, human beings are able to do theoretical physics.

If computers cannot, you couldn't properly say that computers are smarter than human beings.

You can make a quantitative case for computer intelligence in terms of raw processing ability and memory storage.

In this sense, they are vastly more powerful than people at a certain type of intelligence.

But it isn't an innovative intelligence.

It's an administrative and copycat intelligence. Automating this type of intelligence is quite helpful.

But it isn't the type of intelligence that is likely to ever supersede human creativity.

I remember reading the biography of Einstein written by Walter Isaacson back when it came out. It's been a while, so I might not recollect this perfectly.

My memory is that Einstein wasn't a world class mathematician. In fact, I believe that he had a good friend who helped him work out the math for his theories.

His methodology for making new discoveries was to imagine how physical theorems would look, move, and operate in the real world.

And from the picture in his mind's eye, he made deductions about what must be true, guided by knowledge obtained through study.

He knew that his deductions would have to be proved out in a laboratory to be considered valid, and indeed his most important insights were.

But his starting point and reasoning existed inside a human brain.

This points up a certain type of intelligence that appears to be unique to us human beings.


We can imagine a scenario and reason through the necessary conditions that must precede and result from our scenario, thereby allowing us to reach accurate conclusions about the nature of reality without actually experiencing them.

And the beauty of this paradigm is that it doesn't require massive amounts of computing ability. You don't need a gigantic warehouse filled with servers out in the desert to pull it off.

What you need is a brain and sensory organs that allow you to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, so that you can collect the proper environmental data that will allow you to create mental representations later on down the line.

You then pair your imaginings with existing knowledge about how the world works.

And even here, you don't need a massive amount of knowledge.

All that's required is the right knowledge and the ability to discern which knowledge is the right knowledge.

Speaking of abstraction, here is an interesting thought experiment.

Could computers on their own figure out how to bring chocolate into existence?

Could they imagine it?

Could they draw the necessary conclusions?

Here are the rough steps for making chocolate. This is a summary.

The real list is much longer and more intricate.

Cut a ripe cacao pod off a tree with a blade.

Break it open with a machete or rock.

Scrape seeds into a receptacle and cover the seeds to kick off fermentation.

Ferment for 5 - 7 days in a covered receptacle.

Dry the seeds for 5 - 7 days under the sun.

Roast the cacao.

Remove the outer skins.

Grind the cacao into paste and keep the paste at a high enough heat to maintain the cacao's natural fat in a liquid state.

Add a sweetener and mix the sweetener in thoroughly.

Conche the mixture by sloshing it over a heating element to evenly distribute fat and evaporate acidity.

Maintain the cacao within a certain temperature range prior to molding so that the chocolate is tempered into a hard and solid state.

Allow the liquid to cool into a molded form within the correct temperature range so that the fat congeals, and the chocolate hardens.

Again, this is a very stripped-down explanation.

And making chocolate is by far not the most complex process that human beings have invented.

Even so, the complexity of inventing chocolate, not in terms of data processing, but rather in terms of imagining possible desirable outcomes, is certainly beyond the capability of a computer no matter how much knowledge you run through it.

There is a big qualitative difference.

Human beings have sensory organs and a brain, the apparatus for abstraction.

Abstraction allows us to be creative, to innovate, invent, and imagine.

This is our huge intelligence advantage in the world.

If smart is as smart does, then we should all be closing our eyes from time to time to imagine what we want from the world and our lives.

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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