A more formal implication of this question is whether intelligence requires a context.

On Topic

This question may have little value to the fields of data science or statistics, however it is of central importance to the field of Artificial Intelligence. The aim of the AI field has been and will continue to be the simulation of human intelligence and possibly develop types of intelligence for which the human brain is not well equipped.

Such does not require understanding data set training requirements or postmodern thought. It requires knowing, in a more mathematically formal way, what intelligence is. The proclamation, "We know it when we see it," is not science and will not help develop the underdeveloped areas within the AI field.

Narrowness of Inquiry

When Norbert Wiener, Alonso Church, Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, Marvin Minsky, and others laid the foundations for Artificial Intelligence, they considered this question and others like it to be mathematical questions. Although they may have approached these questions with thought experiments like Turing's Immitation Game, they also developed those ideas mathematically, before they tried to embody their ideas in computers.

Not all these questions have a definitive answer in the literature, and the further investigation to reach them is of paramount importance to the further development of the Artificial Intelligence field.

The Turing Challenge to Cartesian Thought

Turing proposed at the end of the description of his famous test, "Will the interrogator decide wrongly as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, 'Can machines think?'"1

Turing effectively challenged the 1641 statement of René Descartes in his Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy:

"It never happens that [an automaton] arranges its speech in various ways, in order to reply appropriately to everything that may be said in its presence, as even the lowest type of man can do."

Descartes and Turing, when discussing automatons achieving human abilities, shared a single context through which they perceived intelligence. Those that have been either the actor or the administrator in actual Turing Tests understand the context: Dialog.

Intelligence Contexts Other Than Dialog2

The context of dialog is distinct from other contexts such as writing a text book, running a business, or raising children. If you apply the principle of comparing machine and human intelligence to automated vehicles (whether jet airliners, cars, trucks, drones, or trains) an entirely different context becomes immediately apparent.

Then the question becomes, does the distribution of fatalities, maiming, disfigurements, and property losses from automatic control match or do better than the same distributions of human control. We see not only the difference in context, but two other differences.

  • The statistical comparison proposed by Turing is a single dimension. Either the computer is as indistinguishable from the human as the man is from the woman or not. In piloting or driving scenarios, the question of how to compare a maiming to a disfigurement arises. As in law and government, how much property loss is equal to a loss of one human life becomes part of the criteria.
  • Validation of the automaton by inequality, where the control of the vehicle being distinguishably better than human control is still success. This in contrast to validation through rough equality, where the automaton's ability to keep up in a dialog with a human is renders it effectively indistinguishable from another human. (A dialog where the computer is too smart would make it distinguishable, thwarting the spoof.)

Range of Contextualization

We have two questions at the extremes in set theory.

  Q1. What does intelligence then mean with NO context?
  Q2. What does intelligence then mean with all possible contexts?

These questions seem easy if taken one at a time.

  A1. That's the same as any context.
  A2. That's what we've been calling general intelligence.

But are those two mathematically equal? Can we project that, if an automaton performs as well as or outperforms humans in a hundred contexts, it can surely do so with ten more contexts? Furthermore, do we select a low functioning, average functioning, or best functioning human for comparison?

What about contexts we don't have on earth yet but will have as time progresses?

Returning to Embodiment and Definition

Can a baby artificial mind grow into an adult by churning Internet data, or does it need to be placed in the context of a robotic entity so it can move around and experience interaction with the physical world?

Can a brain be intelligent without a body?

More generally and more formally ...

Does intelligence require a context?


[1] Chapter 1 ("Imitation Game") of Computing Machinery and Intelligence, 1951.

[2] Multiple Intelligences Theory

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I fear there are lots of questions here which is not really what stack is useful for. If possible please ably a consistent line of thinking to be apply to a single question that has a chance at a single answer. This though an interesting set of questions is only serving to be provocative here and better suit in a forum or article prehaps $\endgroup$ – benbyford Oct 3 '18 at 16:40
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Think maybe you hit on the answer there and maybe this fits more aligned with a philosophy stack overflow. I disagree with the practicality of this question, as to my mind we’re so far away from having good working definition of AI or intelligence, that it’s a fun but moot point $\endgroup$ – benbyford Oct 4 '18 at 12:08
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I disagree and that’s fine :) $\endgroup$ – benbyford Oct 4 '18 at 16:15

Can a brain be intelligent without a body?

No. Don't forget that the main function of the brain is to provide homeostasis between the body and the environment. Without the body, the utility of the brain is no longer relevant.

Alternatively, why consider intelligence only in the brain? How far does our body extend? Embodied cognitive science asks us to consider our entire body and its surrounding extensions utility on the intelligent faculty; The fact that our thumbs stick out in a direction different to our other four fingers allows us to grab things in a effortless way is itself, intelligent.

From this understanding then, the segregation between the intelligent faculty and the "non-intelligent" seems to be murky at best. We'd might as well not consider it unless there is better motivation.

Does intelligence require a context?

Pragmatically speaking, yes. Intelligent behaviour is typically understood as being goal-directed and intentional. Intentionality implies some sort of agency. It being an agent, implies some sort of agent/environment relationship, which implies an environment to act as context.

On the other hand, Karl Friston notes in his review that a general principle that the brain (and thus one would imagine, intelligent behaviour) entails is reduction of thermodynamic free energy while maintaining homeostasis with its environment.

This hints at a promise to describe intelligent behaviour purely in terms of thermodynamic processes, but interpretively what this means in a general language is still unclear.

Also, keep in mind that there is no guarantee that we'd recognize a agent as intelligent if its construction is radically different from ours.


It depends what you mean by intelligence. A robot that acts has a different sort of intelligence than a neural net that merely maps inputs to outputs. Bit patterns within a robot brain have meaning, whereas the meaning of the inputs and outputs of gain meaning only through the larger system in which humans steer input data to it, and act on the basis of the outputs.

In particular, a system that can act needs a causal model of the world that, at least in part, includes itself.

So a non-embodied system may be intelligent in some useful ways, but its intelligence will be radically different than a human intelligence. That's not necessarily a bad thing: we already have lots of humans, and can produce more fairly cheaply. The most cost-effective AIs are surely not human-like ones.


In reference to the title question - if you define being intellegent as ‘doing the right thing at the right time’ then the statement itself implies some sort of embodied context. Whether humanoid, networked or otherwise.

If you have a more existential definition where by fact that there are internal workings, or goings on but aren’t apparent in any embodied output then one could argue either way. A kin to the simulated universe theory: either way the outcome is only how we think about it, rather than having a experimental truth.

If one can refine the question so that the outcome can be used practically then I believe that may be more useful


Absolutely if you give it the right inputs. The brain is like a machine and its behaviour depends on its architecture and the interaction with the environment, wether it is the internet or anything else, so it all boils down to the actual architecture of the system

So this is my expansion (someone suggested it): Intelligence is just an information processing system so a human gets info using his/her eyes, hears, and a lot other stuff then the brain does info processing/storage so if you can build a system that will input information to the brain this is a system that "replaces" the "dafault" input devices in a "compatible way" your brain wont notice the difference so thats why i said isnperfectly possible, if you have questions let me know

  • $\begingroup$ Well i think the architecture is not a part bu the whole, so what else is important for you apart form the architecture? Architecture means the whole thing $\endgroup$ – Fuel Oct 4 '18 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ Ok thanks for that i will try to do it.... but im not here to be "famous" in stack exchange im here just to share my thougths, i dont care about votes or reactions. $\endgroup$ – Fuel Oct 4 '18 at 16:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The problem with the tech and science advances in general is that they are stuck because they don't even try to understand the underlying principles of the universe in general, i have "figured out" a new way of looking at the universe to understand it fully i still need to create the math for it but the principles of it are just mind boggling i decided to share it to the public and scientist physicist and so on and very few people were interested the rest were just blind so is like if someone has showed you the answer to you most important problem and you don't understand it. $\endgroup$ – Fuel Oct 4 '18 at 21:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But since it is a new idea if it turns out to be the correct one at least i wont be afraid of someone stealing it because its already published so that may inspire mathematicians and such people to follow the path i started, maybe not lol $\endgroup$ – Fuel Oct 4 '18 at 21:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.