robbyI am engaged in research in the presently nascent field of artificial intelligence. I also do some work along the lines of artificial life and evolutionary software. One consequence of this is that I am often exposed to opinions and ideas from others with the same interests. Here, I’m going to take on – and take down – one of the less well thought-out ideas that are currently making the rounds; that idea that, in order to have intelligence, that device must also have a body.

Where does this idea come from, you may ask? Professor Alan Winfield, Hewlett Packard professor of electronic engineering at the University of the West of England, says “embodiment is a fundamental requirement of intelligence in general” “a disembodied intelligence doesn’t make sense.” Susan Greenfield, professor of pharmacology at Oxford University’s Lincoln College, says “My own view is that you can’t disembody the brain.”

So there’s the setup, as it were. Here’s the knockdown.

If a person is born deaf, do they fail to develop intelligence? No. If deaf and blind? No. If deaf, dumb and blind? No. Further, if a deaf, dumb and blind person suffers a spinal injury and loses nervous system contact with the body, do they suddenly become unintelligent? No. And so it goes. Intelligence is not about any particular sense, and it is not about mobility, nor, in the end, is it about structure.
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