Individual Differences

"Can a Machine be Intelligent?"
Psychology Class Debate on Artificial Intelligence

Last updated:
03 Aug 2003

The purposes of this class debate are:

  • to bring into focus issues about defining and measuring of intelligence
  • to consider the nature of non-human (artificial) forms of intelligence

Example issues or points to consider:

  • Computers are mastering an increasingly diverse array of tasks that previously required "human intelligence".

  • Speed of processing is a recognized, important criteria for intelligence

  • The chess computer "Deep Blue" recently beat a Grand Master for the first time

  • Computers can only process information serially, humans can process in parallel

  • Is it culturally bias to give human tests of intelligence to computers and decide that they ‘fail’? What if we gave a computer-friendly test of intelligence to a human, e.g. What is 353234.23445 divided by 4352.332?

  • If a piece of technology (e.g. computer chip) is implanted into the brain (in the future), is it intelligent in and of itself or only in the context of a functioning brain?

  • Computers are increasingly being used in counselling, e.g. sexually-abused children disclose more information to computers than in interviews with adults - does this mean the machines are intelligent?

  • Computers are more efficient at storing and retrieving factual, ordered information - what sort of intelligence (if any) is this?

  • Automatic pilots exist because they are more ‘intelligent’ than human pilots, don’t they?

  • The 20th century has been the age of ‘information techology’. Many have predicted that the 21st century will be the age of ‘biotechnology’. In other words, in 100 years time, the distinctions between biology and technology will have been blurred. Will we then have ‘intelligent’ machines?

  • What are Gardener’s criteria for an ‘intelligence’? Can a machine meet these criteria?

  • What are other theorist’s definitions of intelligence? Do, or can, machines meet these criteria? Are the criteria valid?

  • Is a rock intelligent? Is a plant intelligent? Is an animal intelligent? Is a machine intelligent? Where do we draw the line? Why?

  • Computers lack a sense of humour, a gift for small talk and other qualities of human thought. Or do they? You can download a free copy of Ray Kurzweil’s Cybernetic Poet (RKCP) from can write original poems based on a language model from any authors’ work. You can read excerpts from Kurzweil's book "The Age of Spiritual Machines" at