Armando Massarenti (Eboli, 1961) is an Italian philosopher and epistemologist. Since June 12, 2011, he has been in charge of the cultural supplement Il Sole-24 Ore-Domenica, where he has dealt with history and philosophy of science, moral and political philosophy, and applied ethics since 1986, and where he keeps the column Minimum Philosophy. (from Wikipedia, free encyclopedia)

Human intelligence and artificial intelligence: what identifies them and what differentiates them?

Armando Massarenti: Let’s start by trying to demythologize the word intelligence.

The predominant idea understands intelligence as the capacity for abstraction, linguistic ability and computation. Research shows that this example of intelligences has, over the years (since the early twentieth century), steadily increased.

In France, a scholar named Alfred Binet[1] had wondered why there was a discrepancy in intelligence among children; then in the 1980s, it was discovered that intelligence with these parameters increased for every ten years by three points, until 2002. Then from that time there what happened? Maybe we have become a little stupid.

First of all, AI is not such a recent phenomenon.; in fact, if, a priori, there had been no rudiments of AI, what we know today as the Internet, Google and others would not exist.

Let us now examine IQ: it is a fundamental part of human intelligence but does not measure another important aspect namely that of critical thinking. Gardner[2] talks about multiple intelligences but his theory is, like others, a form of inflation that does not help us focus on the concept of intelligence. Which critical thinking does. We can be very intelligent but nevertheless make many mistakes.

In fact, another subtopic of my book is: why some people with high IQs say or do stupid things. The reason is that they lack adequately developed critical thinking. This argument is corroborated by research that has done tests that measure rationality instead of IQ

AI, on the other hand, works with mechanisms that have nothing to do with rationality; for example, if I say a very trivial thing, a human doesn’t understand it or understands it later, while AI responds that it doesn’t have enough information to give the answer. And this is interesting because it shows that AI doesn’t reason the way we reason, but it does it stochastically, that is, it processes countless data in a very few seconds and if it finds, among them, the information, then it can give me an answer otherwise it gets stuck.

Human beings have limited rationality[3] and some limits have been overcome by AI.

The interesting thing is that normally AI operates through a “shortcut,” because the moment it was realized that it was impossible to imitate purely human capabilities, statistics was applied to AI, with which it is able to produce sensible answers.

The bottom line, however, is that there is no real definition of intelligence that satisfies everyone. So that is why it is better to dwell on and delve into particular types of intelligence.

Maria Giulia Marini: Going back to Gardner, his study was of fundamental importance in “classifying” the intelligence of people with different intelligences, and we analyzed the results in different studies with people with different abilities. And this has been crucial in not labeling people with the stigma of, for example, “mental retardation.” How do you see the use of the concept of multiple intelligences in this case?

Armando Massarenti: When we talk about the different forms of intelligence to be promoted in society, all kinds of intelligence should be promoted. At the basis of everything is also artistic practice because it builds those skills that are then useful for anything even scientific thinking. The dimension you mentioned is very important because it is the dimension of care that is based on the principle that all people should be cared for.

I always go to a festival, Aut-aut, on the different forms of autism, and you can see very well that in the face of some deficits you develop other skills that are socially and workwise the same very useful. Even in my book I talk about intelligences in the plural (…). So there is no general definition of intelligence but there is the ability of individuals to find their dimension in different contexts[4] .

Regarding Gardner, my criticism is not to self-deceive with these theories. One form of self-deception in American faculties, for example, is to think that all intelligences are on the same plane but alas, they are not.

Maria Giulia Marini: In the early 2000s, this descent of intelligence took hold. Why? What has happened?

Armando Massarenti: This is the Flynn effect. Discovered by the philosopher of the same name, James R. Flynn who wanted to challenge the result of some classical studies in the late 1960s based on the hypothesis of a correlation between I.Q. and “race,” and the result was that black people seemed to be less intelligent. With respect to these studies, Flynn began to get a good understanding of how these tests worked and found that the data were right, it was true that there were intelligence deficits in some categories but he disputed the interpretation, which had been made, of the results. This is kind of at the heart of how to get smart again i.e. you have to confront those who don’t think like we do, as Flynn did.

Where does the Flynn effect come from? In 2010 a book Internet is making us stupid, by Nicholas Carc, did a very careful analysis of this. But as early as 2004 precisely in northern European societies, the general level of intelligence began to fall; one of the most popular hypotheses is that it happened especially there because the Internet had developed faster than in others.

The other, on the other hand, argues that the trend of the curve is actually a parabola that reached its peak as early as 2002.

I, on the other hand, support another hypothesis, which is also Flynn’s, taken from a book of his that was too risky to publish where he denounced the absence of intellectual debate in American universities.

The latter, according to him, was caused by left-wing censorship i.e., that which prevents real debate between discordant positions, also called intellectual debate. Flynn names the discordant positions with the term: microaggressions.

Microaggressions are behaviors consisting of brief verbal, behavioral, or environmental slurs that are frequent in common language that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slurs and/or insults. They are not manifestos or acts of discrimination and hatred toward a particular social group, but attitudes, speech, and behavior that underlie a devaluing, discriminatory, and stigmatizing message.

Maria Giulia Marini: So the argument you make is that we have become too politically correct and too echo-chamber (I stay in my comfort zone and only compare myself with my peers). Even Hannah Arendth in The Banality of Evil said that it is very easy to get along with people who think like us, the real challenge is to find agreement with people who thought differently

Armando Massarenti: Exactly, this is the essence of the true usefulness of dialogue. Mine is a book with a philosophical background, and philosophy has taught us that dialogue is about confronting those who think differently from us. Instead of really identifying the reasons for disagreement to clarify positions we tend to create extreme polarization, and this is clearly seen on the Web. It does not matter to solve problems or to affirm true things; what matters most now is to shamelessly say false things. One asserts oneself by insulting the other and telling so-called blue lies against the other; this is accepted by most, even acclaimed, because it is seen as a winning skill in the fight against the enemy.

Maria Giulia Marini: What are these blue lies?

Armando Massarenti: These are tribal lies, in a logic from the strong opposition such as saying: Obama is not American. But let’s proceed-

So why is the net making us stupid? Because of this network-induced superficiality and over-taking or over-engaging in these hate gyms that develop especially on the net where people try to reconfirm their identity. On the net there is another slap we give to the truth through these extreme polarizations that are moral exhibitionism.

Maria Giulia Marini: Narrative is fundamental to conversation, self-explication, and speaking between different languages. In the doctor-patient relationship, for example, there can be a difficulty in understanding different types of language because the doctor has his own, due to the type of training, and the patient has another. When they do not understand each other, an escalation of violence (slow violence) may begin, and this inconspicuous thing undermines mutual trust because there is no translator and each remains entrenched in his or her own positions, such as in the case of the principle of self-determination. The patient can choose but the doctor must oppose his prescription.

Armando Massarenti:

There is one thing you said that I think is very important that is the issue of trust. Trust is very fragile and needs to be fostered in all ways. In my book there is a chapter where I talk about trust and rationality (the symmetry of trusting and not trusting) that incites to promote all those situations where there is trust. Sometimes the cost to be paid for trusting in situations that turned out to be counterproductive is high, and this causes such deep-seated distrust of others that it is almost impossible to eliminate or heal it. The good thing is that human beings normally trust.


Maria Giulia Marini: Children, for example, trust unless they have received a restrictive upbringing. The problem arises when one is an adult and has come up against reality.

Armando Massarenti: And speaking of which, a Grens psychologist in addition to identifying rules, called rules of thumb that allow one to navigate choices without doing all the reasoning, instinctively[5] ; he lays out another rule that advocates trusting the same person at least twice.  These seem like very simple ideas, but they are the result of decades of experimentation.

Maria Giulia Marini: So we have become dumber because there is too much superficiality, too many blue lies and too much fake news, and this undermines our ability to believe and know the truth.

Armando Massarenti: There is a lack of antibodies so we need to rethink our educational system to make critical thinking a common subject in the minds especially of young people and recent graduates. It is not a matter of calling the masses stupid for being manipulated but of making a serious reflection on what culture we should promote and transmit. It is difficult to transmit it from generation to generation precisely because of the problem of language impoverishment. Defining facts may also be problematic but we need to have the common language to describe reality.

The purpose of my book is to enable the intelligent person to walk through this heath of stupidity that is the world around us.

Maria Giulia Marini: is irony a form of intelligence?

Armando Massarenti: Irony is essential to express the facts and to see the possible i.e. while you are saying one thing you also see its opposite and you are forced to reflect on it and so it is also one of the antidotes. Also in the book this ironic aspect helps.

Maria Giulia Marini: Are we taking the facts too seriously?

Armando Massarenti: Facts should be taken seriously but trust helps to understand them even more.

[1] Alfred Binet, born Alfredo Binetti (Nice, July 8, 1857 – Paris, October 18, 1911), was a French psychologist and inventor of the first usable intelligence test, the basis of today’s IQ test. (Wikipedia)


[2] Gardner is the son of Ralph Gardner and Hilde Gardner (née Weilheimer) German Jewish immigrants who left Germany before World War II[1]. A professor at Harvard University in Massachusetts, he gained celebrity in the scientific community through his theory on multiple intelligences. His proposal is to consider the old conception of intelligence as a unitary factor measurable by the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as baseless, and to replace it with a more dynamic definition articulated in differentiated subfactors. He is currently considered one of the most important exponents of the so-called factorialist, or S, theorists of intelligence, as opposed to the globalists, or G.

He is also known for writing a number of important texts in educational psychology and for compiling the most important classic history of the birth of cognitive science, The Mind’s New Science (1983). For his research, he has received several honorary awards and degrees. (wikipedia)

[3] Bounded rationality is the concept, or idea, that, during decision making, an individual’s rationality is limited by various factors: by the information he possesses, by the cognitive limits of his mind, and by the finite amount of time he has to make a decision. It has been proposed by Herbert A. Simon as an alternative basis for mathematical modeling of decision making, as used in economics and related disciplines; it complements rationality understood only as optimization, in which decision making would be a fully rational process of seeking an optimal choice given the available information.

One can also look at bounded rationality from another perspective: since decision makers lack the skills and resources to arrive at the optimal solution, they instead apply their rationality only after an enormous simplification of the available choices. That is, the decision maker acts as a “satisficer,” i.e., someone who seeks a satisfactory solution, rather than the absolute best one.[source-less] Simon uses the analogy of a pair of scissors, where one blade is the “cognitive limitation” of humans and the other is the “structure of the environment”; minds with limited cognitive resources can thus succeed by exploiting pre-existing structures and regularities in the environment.

Some models of behavior in the social sciences assume that humans can reasonably be approximated or described as rational entities (see, for example, rational choice theory). Various economic models assume that people have average rationality, and can in sufficiently large quantities be approximated as agents in accordance with their preferences. The concept of bounded rationality revises this assumption to account for the fact that perfectly rational decisions are often not feasible in practice, precisely because of the finite amount of computational resources available to make them.

[4] Possible general definition of intelligence.

[5]He gives the example of the doctor as a rule of thumb i.e. when he comes up with one solution to a problem that seems acceptable to him he doesn’t go and investigate all the other possible ones as well he already knows how to give a fairly complete picture.

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