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The dialog context

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.

Other contexts2

The context of the dialog is distinct from other contexts such as writing a textbook, running a business, or raising children. If you apply the principle of comparing machine and human intelligence to automated vehicles (e.g. self-driving cars), an entirely different context becomes immediately apparent.

Question

Can a brain be intelligent without a body? More generally, does intelligence require a context?


References

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

[2] Multiple Intelligences Theory

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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.

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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.

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Can a brain be intelligent without a body?

In my opinion, yes, if you give it the right inputs. The brain is like a machine and its behavior depends on its architecture and the interaction with the environment, whether it is the internet or anything else, so it all boils down to the actual architecture of the system.

Intelligence is just an information processing system. A human gets info from his/her eyes, hears, or other sensors, then the brain does info processing and storage. One can potentially replace our sensors with other sensors that acquire the info from the world and send it to the brain.

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Can a brain be intelligent without a body?

If you define "intelligence" 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. Akin to the simulated universe theory: either way the outcome is only how we think about it, rather than having an experimental truth.

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

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