Cognition, Intelligence and IQ

 In part, an initial argument has been made that the future of social evolution may well be predicated on developments in genetics and AI, because these technologies may, over time, profoundly change the nature of human intelligence by providing access to additional cognitive abilities. If so, the current measurement of IQ may eventually require a logarithmic scale, rather than the current linear scale.

For these additional cognitive abilities may work on fundamentally different principles, which may facilitate an exponential increase in cognitive speed, data storage and information retrieval. However, we will start by making reference to an earlier discussion entitled ‘The Nature of Intelligence’ that encompassed a number of related topics, which may still be relevant to this discussion, although now possibly requiring some revision in light of more recent research. However, this discussion will return to what appears to be a recurring question:

What is inferred by the word ‘intelligence’?

With reference to the previous historic outline, we might realise that many have attempted to articulate both a definition and a description of the underlying mechanisms that might help explain the nature of intelligence. However, if we take the general definition of the word ‘intelligence’ to infer an ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, this ability might be better described in terms of a ‘process of cognitionthat has also been previously discussed. If so, the word ‘intelligence’ might be seen to be little more than a convenient generalisation or overall perception of something that is much more complex in both scope and structure. Equally, in this context, an IQ score would also be little more than a statistical value that provides some measure of the complexity of multiple cognitive processes, which might eventually be assigned to both human and artificial intelligence.

So how might we proceed to discuss cognitive ability?

Within the wider scope of future developments that might come to affect social evolution, the discussion of any cognitive ability may need to consider both humanity and AI. If so, we might need to consider the ‘platform’ on which cognitive processes might take place, i.e. biological brain, processor hardware or even some future form of hybrid wetware.

Note: The word ‘platform’ is used because it possibly highlights that irrespective of the nature of the cognitive ability being described, there is a need for some physical structure in which to function. Today, we might readily understand the logical separation of computer hardware and software and therefore come to recognise a possibly similar separation between brain and mind.

Given the wider scope implied in the previous note, we might initially consider the question above by abstracting some general processes that may help to characterise a structural hierarchy of cognitive ability:

  • Acquire data
    Data in isolation may simply define a process of acquisition, the scope of which might encompass senses or sensory devices. However, while this process may involve complexity, it may not imply conscious analysis and therefore only require limited cognitive abilities.

  • Structure data as information
    By definition, a data-stream may be initially unstructured in that it may have no immediate context and there may not be an ability to store and retrieve the totality of all sensory data-streams. However, to have subsequent meaning, this data may require, at least, some minimal form of hierarchical structure or context, such that the data can be logically stored and retrieved from ‘memory’. While this process also may operate on a subconscious level, it suggests an increasing need for some cognitive ability.

  • Contextualise information into knowledge
    We might initially attempt to define knowledge as structured information, which is complemented by previously learnt experience and augmented by additional cognitive abilities that can analyse and conceptualise information. Whether this process requires a conscious sentience might be debated, either in terms of human judgement or weighted algorithms.

  • Use knowledge as a basis of action
    While many human ‘actions’ can be unconscious or driven by irrational emotions, we might prefer the idea of decision-making being increasingly conscious and rational. However, in terms of humanity, what we might subliminally recognise is that many cognitive decisions can depend on a ‘state of mind’ at any given point in time. While we might align this term to an emotional state in humans, it might also reflect a logic state of an AI system.

While the bullets above are only intended to provide an initial framework for discussion, it has introduced two other ideas, i.e. consciousness and sentience, which need some clarification. While often subject to philosophical debate, it will be suggested that both might be used define a boundary of self-awareness that the overall cognitive process seeks to protect. It is realised that this may appear to be a very strange description as we normally only associate the idea consciousness and sentience with the human condition. However, as in the choice of the word ‘platform’, an aspect of this discussion is being abstracted beyond the current scope of humanity, such that it might also include the cognitive ability of some future AI ‘entity’.

Note: The embodiment of AI has often been characterised in terms of the restrictions imposed by Asimov’s three laws of robotics . However, it is unclear whether AI might one-day be able to prioritise its own survival, which may then require it to have its own boundary of self-awareness. While this might not exactly conform to the normal idea of consciousness sentience, it might be analogous.

While recognising the level of speculation surrounding this description, it may still serve to clarify some of the ambiguity associated with the word ‘intelligence’, which may only have meaning in terms of the sum total of many parallel cognitive processes. In this respect, these processes do not necessarily need to be either conscious or sentient, simply coordinated towards maintaining survival within the limits of some boundary definition of self-awareness in a manner that may appear intelligent. So, having outlined the wider framework of the discussion, we might return to the next question:

How does the human brain work?

 The human brain weighs around 1.5kg. which while only 2% of a person's total weight, it can consume 25% the body’s oxygen and 20% of its energy in terms of calories each day. The brain has over 400 miles of blood capillaries, 100 billion interconnected neurons possibly giving rise to an estimated 1014 interactions every second. However, the physical structure of the human brain does not explain how it collates all its sensory data and then structures this data as information, which can then be contextualise as learnt knowledge that might finally guide our actions. While research into the functions of the brain have come a long way, there is still much more to learn, although it is known that the prefrontal cortex appears to be responsible for many complex cognitive processes, such as personality, decision making and social behaviour, which continue to develop over the first 20 years of life. For example, a baby’s cerebral cortex expands by nearly 90% in the first year of life, while its brain cells reorganise and form new interconnections. However, somewhere along the physical process of development, the structure of the brain develops the necessary cognitive abilities that support consciousness, perception, thinking, judgment and memory, which might be described in terms of the metaphysical nature of the mind. Within this context, the human mind has evolved the necessary cognitive processes to think, reason, imagine, recognise, appreciate and feel emotions, which might not only influence our actions, but come to define how we perceive and understand the world, both real and imagined.

Are there any processing limits on the human brain?

In part, we might recognise that the ‘design’ of the human brain is the result of a very long process of evolution primarily driven by physical survival rather than abstracted thought. As such, the structure of the human brain is predicated on a blueprint provided by DNA that may be extremely limited and slow in addressing any future upgrades that better meet the challenges of the brave new world ahead. Therefore, while the human brain may still be the most complex parallel processor on planet Earth, we also need to realise that only a fraction of its raw processing power and information storage may be useful or even accessible to conscious thought processes. In this respect, serial computer processors can be millions of times faster in terms of processing speed, were the storage and retrieval of data can appear almost infinitely more reliable than the human brain, especially when information can be organised into logical databases best suited for some given application. In addition, research suggests that the equivalent ‘ central executive’ of the human mind may only be capable of processing one thought at a time at a rate of 5-10 per second. So, while acknowledging the human brain power as a hugely complex parallel processor, it is a comparatively slow serial processor that can only consciously think about one problem at a time.

Note: The amount of sensory information that can be processed to form any mental picture of the world around us can be severely compromised, such that we are often literally blind to many events taking place in front of our eyes. Even so, this limited perception defines the ‘model’ of the physical world that is created in our mind.

At this point, it might be argued that humanity has developed computers because there was an increasing recognition of the limitation of the human brain to maintain control over the growing complexity of the modern world. A previous discussion of AI technology might be referenced as an outline of the scope of the technology, both today and in the future. However, this discussion will now return to the controversial topic of the variance of human intelligence.

What is so controversial about intelligence?

The 1994 publication of The Bell Curve by Hernstein and Murray was divided into a number of distinct sections, although this discussion will only outline the first three. The first section addressed a somewhat retrospective review under the heading ‘ The Emergence of a Cognitive Elite’ . The second section considered a somewhat more controversial topic under the heading ‘Cognitive Classes and Social Behaviour’. The third section addressed what some believed to be, at best, politically incorrect and, at worst, racist in its findings under the heading ‘ The National Context ’. While this discussion is not intended as a review of this book, because the scope and details are simply too broad and complex to be detailed, some attempt is made to highlight its key findings regarding cognitive ability. However, we might start with the 6 conclusions listed at the end of the introduction, which it claims are beyond significant technical dispute, even though refuted by others in the wider media.

  1. There is such a thing as a general factor of cognitive ability on which human beings differ.

  2. All standardized tests of academic aptitude or achievement measure this general factor to some degree, but IQ tests expressly designed for that purpose measure it most accurately.

  3. IQ scores match, to a first degree, whatever it is that people mean when they use the word intelligent or smart in ordinary language.

  4. IQ scores are stable, although not perfectly so, over much of a person’s life.

  5. Properly administered IQ tests are not demonstrably biased against social, economic, ethnic, or racial groups.

  6. Cognitive ability is substantially heritable, apparently no less than 40% and no more than 80%.

In isolation, it is not clear whether any of these bullets are particularly controversial, although some people may disagree on the details. However, before proceeding to the findings of the book, it needs to be highlighted, again, that most of the findings are based on statistical analysis – see Introduction to Statistics for a generalised overview. As such, the findings appear to be anchored in the statistical correlation of IQ scores with other factors within various ‘populations’ or ‘social groups’. However, there is no inference that the findings apply to any specific individual and, in this context, we will take a summary quote from the first three sections of the book as being reflective of the findings.

Cognitive stratification takes different forms at the top and the bottom of the scale of intelligence. In Part-1, we look at the top. Its story line is that modern societies identify the brightest youths with ever increasing efficiency and then guide them into fairly narrow educational and occupational channels. These channels are increasingly lucrative and influential, leading to the development of a distinct stratum in the social hierarchy, which we hereby dub the Cognitive Elite. The isolation of the brightest from the rest of society is already extreme; the forces driving it are growing stronger rather than weaker. Governments can influence these forces but cannot neutralize them.

While political correctness may wish to avoid hurting anybody’s feelings, statistical analysis of a population or social group is not orientated towards any individual. In addition, the quote above appears to be highlighting what most people understand to be basically true, irrespective of whether they are personally part of the implied elite or not, i.e. there are people with different levels of intelligence and society often selects on the basis of IQ. While entertaining a little more controversy, the second section of the book confines its statistical analysis to white-caucasian groupings, where IQ is correlated to various factors, such as poverty, schooling, unemployment, welfare, parenting and crime. Again, the findings are summarised in the following quote:

Part-2 presents our best estimate of how much intelligence has to do with America’s most pressing social problems. The short answer is ‘quite a lot’ and the reason is that different levels of cognitive ability are associated with different patterns of social behaviour. High cognitive ability is generally associated with socially desirable behaviours, low cognitive ability with socially undesirable ones.

It is realised that certain individuals may recognise themselves as being part of one of the implied groups analysed in this section, e.g. unemployed, and may feel that any suggestion that their circumstances are related to their IQ to be politically incorrect. However, putting aside hurt feelings for the moment, the real issue of concern here is whether the analysis is statistically true or can be refuted by other hard evidence. In all honesty, the corollary of the first findings above would simply appear to suggest, not unreasonably, that low IQ might also be linked to many social problems. So, finally we arrive at the third and most controversial section of the book, which turns its attention on the wider statistical analysis of the US population as a whole.

We now turn to the national scene. This means considering all races and ethnic groups, which leads to the most controversial issues we will discuss: ethnic differences in cognitive ability and social behaviour, the effects of fertility patterns on the distribution of intelligence, and the overall relationship of low cognitive ability to what has become known as the underclass. As we begin, perhaps a pact is appropriate. The facts about these topics are not only controversial but exceedingly complex.

Here, the most controversial findings are possibly under the heading ‘ Ethnic Differences in Cognitive Ability’, which we will also summarise in a quote.

Despite the forbidding air that envelops the topic, ethnic differences in cognitive ability are neither surprising nor in doubt. Large human populations differ in many ways, both cultural and biological. It is not surprising that they might differ at least slightly in their cognitive characteristics. That they do is confirmed by the data on ethnic differences in cognitive ability from around the world. One message of this chapter is that such differences are real and have consequences. Another is that the facts are not as alarming as many people seem to fear.

Some have claimed that the findings above go beyond political correctness, such that they are racist. Again, it is assumed that this position would have to be supported by equivalent statistical analysis that contradicts and refutes any or all statements above. The suggestion that ethic differences, which are often physically obvious, do not extend into arena of cognitive ability seem often grounded in an ideological assumption rather than any solid evidence. However, pursuing this debate is not really the focus of this discussion, which is attempting to consider the future of social evolution. In this context, it might simply be suggested that humanity, as a whole, may not be intelligent enough and therefore some sections of society will look for new technology solutions that may fundamentally change the nature of human intelligence and, in so doing, trigger a new phase of social evolution.