Why Artificial Intelligence Is Simply Impossible

The very essence of intelligence is that it's human, and can never be recreated by something artificial.

Why Artificial Intelligence Is Simply Impossible
Luc de Brabandere


BRUSSELS â€" At a primary school, young children were asked to complete the following sentence: "The cat has … legs and the bird … ." Conscientiously, the pupils filled in the blanks with the numbers four and two. That is, all but one of them, who instead wrote, "The cat has pain in his legs and the bird is sad about it."

Does that one student's answer indicate that he is somehow less intelligent than the rest? Of course not. For sure, he has a different intelligence, one that's more unusual. He doesn't think in the same way as the rest of his classmates, but that doesn't mean he doesn't think just as well, or even better.

So-called "intelligence" tests offer little information about actual intellectual capacity. It's a bit like trying to estimate the value of a house by looking at what's in the fridge. These tests date from a time when intelligence was for the most part limited to the logical and mathematical ability to calculate, rank, extrapolate or deduce. IQ is far from the perfect measure of intelligence because there are many kinds of intelligence. Intelligence is like blood type: There isn't any that's better than the rest, but some are more commonly shared. The question of one individual's level of intelligence therefore matters less than that the type of intelligence.

Thankfully, since the 1980s and the emergence of work from academics such as American psychologist Howard Gardner, the plurality of intelligences and the necessity to combine them are no longer contested. Even better is that there are now many theories about the many forms of intelligence! Gardner himself has had to add one to his original list.

In addition to deduction, and mathematical and logical capabilities, there are, among others: musical intelligence (sensitive to sounds and rhythms), bodily intelligence (which frees up the full potential of all body parts), relational or emotional intelligence (the ability to identify the feelings and intentions of others), visual intelligence (which enables us to visualize before we build something and move objects into space), and language intelligence (the ability to think with words).

Unbeatable at table tennis, though â€" Photo: Global panorama

Almost none of these functions can be programmed so that a machine could carry them out. A computer can recognize a face, but it can't find it beautiful. A computer has memory, but it can't have memories. It can produce images, but it doesn't have any imagination. A computer can learn from its mistakes, but it cannot regret them. It can compare ideas, but it cannot have an idea.

What we call "intelligence" isn't a unique ability, but instead a set of skills, innate or acquired, that requires from us both to know and to ignore, to become emotional and to be detached, to ask questions and to answer. These skills are inseparable from surprises, sensations, intuition, laughter.

The very essence of intelligence is that it's human and that it can't be recreated by something artificial. If it became artificial, it would mean that we'd have given up on using our own. But the topic is raised again and again in the media. As soon as a computer defeats a human being at one game or another, the myth that artificial intelligence will become part of our lives is resurrected.

Computers can free us from many tedious chores, but that doesn't mean they'll make us free. They can help us foresee but not want. They can help us find information, but they won't tell us what to look for. They can analyze the way things are headed, but they can't understand what it means.

*Luc de Brabandere is a Belgian-born mathematician and senior advisor at the Paris office of Boston Consulting Group.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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