A Separate Kind of Intelligence

Back in 1950, Turing argued that for a genuine AI we might do better by simulating a child’s mind than an adult’s. This insight has particular resonance given recent work on "life history" theory in evolutionary biology—the developmental trajectory of a species, particularly the length of its childhood, is highly correlated with adult intelligence and flexibility across a wide range of species. This trajectory is also reflected in brain development, with its distinctive transition from early proliferation to later pruning. I’ve argued that this developmental pattern reflects a distinctive evolutionary way of resolving explore-exploit tensions that bedevil artificial intelligence. Childhood allows for a protected period of broad, high-temperature search through the space of solutions and hypotheses, before the requirements of focused, goal-directed planning set in. This distinctive exploratory childhood intelligence, with its characteristic playfulness, imagination and variability, may be the key to the human ability to innovate creatively yet intelligently, an ability that is still far beyond the purview of AI. More generally, a genuine understanding of intelligence requires a developmental perspective.

ALISON GOPNIK is a developmental psychologist at UC Berkeley. Her books include The Philosophical Baby and, most recently, The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children. Alison Gopnik's Edge Bio Page