A Collection of Definitions of Intelligence

Shane Legg
IDSIA, Galleria 2, Manno-Lugano CH-6928, Switzerland shane@idsia.ch www.idsia.ch/∼shane

Marcus Hutter
IDSIA, Galleria 2, Manno-Lugano CH-6928, Switzerland RSISE/ANU/NICTA, Canberra, ACT, 0200, Australia marcus@hutter1.net www.hutter1.net

October 4, 2006


“Viewed narrowly, there seem to be almost as many definitions of intelligence as there were experts asked to define it.” R. J. Sternberg quoted in [14]

Despite a long history of research and debate, there is still no standard definition of intelligence. This has lead some to believe that intelligence may be approximately described, but cannot be fully defined. We believe that this degree of pessimism is too strong. Although there is no single standard definition, if one surveys the many definitions that have been proposed, strong similarities between many of the definitions quickly become obvious. In many cases different definitions, suitably interpreted, actually say the same thing but in different words. This observation lead us to believe that a single general and encompassing definition for arbitrary systems was possible. Indeed we have constructed a formal definition of intelligence, called universal intelligence [21], which has strong connections to the theory of optimal learning agents [19]. Rather than exploring very general formal definitions of intelligence, here we will instead take the opportunity to present the many informal definitions that we have collected over the years. Naturally, compiling a complete list would be impossible as many definitions of intelligence are buried deep inside articles and books. Nevertheless, the 70 odd definitions presented below are, to the best of our knowledge, the largest and most well referenced collection there is. We continue to add to this collect as we discover further definitions, and keep the most up to date version of the collection available online [22]. If you know of additional definitions that we could add, please send us an email.


storing and retrieving information. “Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas.” Random House Unabridged Dictionary. understanding.” AllWords Dictionary. 2006 2 . and adjusting to new situations. reasoning. “.2 Collective definitions In this section we present definitions that have been proposed by groups or organisations. 1. plan. to engage in various forms of reasoning. 2006 5.” The American Heritage Dictionary. classifying. “Intelligence is a very general mental capability that. but rather a combination of many mental processes directed toward effective adaptation to the environment. . experience. 2006 2. fourth edition. “The capacity to acquire and apply knowledge. reasoning. reasoning. ability to adapt effectively to the environment. In these cases we have chosen to attribute the quote to the psychologist. “Capacity for learning. etc. In this section we only list those definitions that either cannot be attributed to a specific individuals. “the general mental ability involved in calculating. to overcome obstacles by taking thought. relationships. to adapt effectively to the environment. either by making a change in oneself or by changing the environment or finding a new one .” Columbia Encyclopedia. . and similar forms of mental activity. “The ability to learn facts and skills and apply them. . “The ability to use memory. understanding. and have placed it in the next section. imagination and judgement in order to solve problems and adapt to new situations. meanings. 2006 7. solve problems. perceiving relationships and analogies. 2000 3. sixth edition. think abstractly. especially when this ability is highly developed. involves the ability to reason. to learn from experience.” Encyclopedia Britannica. knowledge. “The ability to learn. we have endeavoured to always list the original source. understand and make judgments or have opinions that are based on reason” Cambridge Advance Learner’s Dictionary.” Common statement with 52 expert signatories [13] 6. learning quickly. 2006 8. In many cases definitions of intelligence given in encyclopedias have been either contributed by an individual psychologist or quote an earlier definition given by a psychologist. or represent a collective definition agreed upon by many individuals. facts. 2006 9. using language fluently. comprehend complex ideas.” Encarta World English Dictionary. intelligence is not a single mental process. learn quickly and learn from experience.” American Psychological Association [28] 4. aptitude in grasping truths. As many dictionaries source their definitions from other dictionaries. generalizing. among other things. .

” Wordnet 2. . 2006 14. The term denotes that combination of abilities required for survival and advancement within a particular culture. to reason and to have knowledge of the world. comprehend ideas and language. the ability to adapt to the environment.1. Anastasi [2] 2. This faculty is judgement. . and understand. “The ability to learn. 2006 13. 1. In some cases we have not yet managed to locate the exact reference and would appreciate any help in doing so. to solve novel problems. 2006 3 Psychologist definitions This section contains definitions from psychologists. otherwise called good sense. but rather a composite of several functions. “Capacity of mind. .10.” Wikipedia.” Word Central Student Dictionary. Anderson [3] 3. “Intelligence is a property of mind that encompasses many related mental abilities. 2006 18. the faculty of adapting ones self to circumstances. especially to understand principles. “. “. 2006 11. initiative.” A. Binet [5] 3 . “The ability to comprehend. acquire knowledge.” A. think abstractly. .” Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2006 15. facts or meanings.” M. 2006 17. “The ability to learn and understand or to deal with problems. practical sense. truths. is of the utmost importance for practical life. and think about things. “The capacity to learn. solve problems.” Wiktionary. to understand and profit from experience. and apply it to practise. 4 October. plan. such as the capacities to reason. that facet of mind underlying our capacity to think. “It seems to us that in intelligence there is a fundamental faculty. “: the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : .” Longman Dictionary or Contemporary English. . “The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. 2006 12. “Intelligence is not a single. understand.” Wordsmyth Dictionary.” World Book Encyclopedia. unitary ability. the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2006 16. and learn. reason. the alteration or the lack of which. . 4 October. the ability to learn and comprehend.

” W. quickness. . . the degree of intelligence being proportional to the complexity.” S. . . 12. “An intelligence is the ability to solve problems. Gardner [11] 4 . and the like.” J. . . L. Das 9. a capacity that enters into everything the child says or does or thinks. “. the effective use of concepts and symbols in dealing with a problem to be solved . . . or both. the ability to carry on abstract thinking . . . capacity for perceptual recognition. in its lowest terms intelligence is present where the individual animal. quickness or alertness in response. “. Dearborn quoted in [35] 10. the brains’ neuroanatomy and physiology. range or flexibility or association. or the abstractness. “The capacity to learn or to profit by experience. Freeman 14. . “Sensory capacity. “.” C. . involving the grasping of relationships. by new adaptive responses and 2. industry. that are valued within one or more cultural settings. . Boring [7] 6.” E. to adjust himself to his environment. Bingham [6] 5.” J. F. J. the ability to learn . any want of ’intelligence’ will therefore be revealed to some degree in almost all that he attempts. . the capacity to meet novel situations. . facility and imagination. of the relationship. Many definitions of what is indefinable have been attempted by psychologists.4. Intelligence C: the level of performance on psychometric tests of cognitive ability. interest. is aware. the ability to perform tests or tasks. V. Drever [9] 11. Eysenck. a quality that is intellectual and not emotional or moral: in measuring it we try to rule out the effects of the child’s zeal. Secondly. adjustment or adaptation of the individual to his total environment. “Intelligence is what is measured by intelligence tests. . Intelligence B: the manifestation of intelligence A. or human being. . ” W. or to learn to do so. the capacity to reorganize one’s behavior patterns so as to act more effectively and more appropriately in novel situations . . or to create products. Burt [8] 7. “A person possesses intelligence insofar as he has learned. . of the relevance of his behaviour to an objective. Colvin quoted in [35] 8.” H. span of attention. . “. the extent to which a person is educable . however dimly. and everything that influences its expression in real life behavior. N. Freeman quoted in [35] 13. or limited aspects thereof . or can learn.” F.” W. it denotes a general capacity. P. “We shall use the term ‘intelligence’ to mean the ability of an organism to solve new problems . of which the least unsatisfactory are 1.” H. . “Intelligence A: the biological substrate of mental ability. the ability to plan and structure one’s behavior with an end in view. . S.

. “Intelligence is part of the internal environment that shows through at the interface between person and external environment as a function of cognitive task demands. “.’ And the reason is that the emphasis is on the use of your intelligence to achieve success in your life. association. comparing. “. and using in new contexts information and conceptual skills. Jensen 22. . certain set of cognitive capacities that enable an individual to adapt and thrive in any given environment they find themselves in. C. imagination.” J. . the resultant of the process of acquiring. There’s a cluster of cognitive abilities that lead to successful adaptation to a wide range of environments. “Intelligence is assimilation to the extent that it incorporates all the given data of experience within its framework . . Peterson quoted in [35] 25. and be imaginative. memory. judgement and reasoning.” J. There can be no doubt either. E. “A biological mechanism by which the effects of a complexity of stimuli are brought together and given a somewhat unified effect in behavior. discrimination.” J. Piaget [30] 23. performing an operation on a specific type of content to produce a particular product. exercise judgment.” R. Murray [17] 19. . So I define it as your skill in achieving whatever it is you want to attain in your life within your sociocultural context — meaning that 5 . . . “Ability to adapt oneself adequately to relatively new situations in life. cognitive ability. “. I prefer to refer to it as ‘successful intelligence.” R. Simonton [33] 26. Henmon [16] 18. retrieving.” D. combining. storing in memory. A.” A. “Intelligence is a general factor that runs through all types of performance. and problem solving and so forth. Snow quoted in [34] 27. “Sensation. and knowledge possessed.15. “. E. “. and those cognitive capacities include things like memory and retrieval. that mental life is also accommodation to the environment. .” J. Herrnstein and C. Guilford 16. Assimilation can never be pure because by incorporating new elements into its earlier schemata the intelligence constantly modifies the latter in order to adjust them to new elements. “The capacity for knowledge.” Humphreys 20. Pinter quoted in [35] 24. Huarte 21. . “Intelligence is the ability to learn.” R. K. perception. J. Haggerty quoted in [35] 17.” V. P. . .” N. .

that generates adaptive behviour to meet goals in a range of environments can be said to be intelligent. ” R. . Thurstone quoted in [35] 32.” R. (2) complexity. S. M. 6 . “. “Any system . the ability to undertake activities that are characterized by (1) difficulty. “. “The ability to carry on abstract thinking. (5) adaptedness to goal. “The capacity to inhibit an instinctive adjustment. .” J. where appropriate action is that which increases the probability of success. and to maintain such activities under conditions that demand a concentration of energy and a resistance to emotional forces. and deal effectively with the environment. L. which is an inhibitory process. (4) economy. Wechsler [40] 33. “A global concept that involves an individual’s ability to act purposefully. think rationally.” L. and for others it might be to become a very good basketball player or actress or musician. and for some it’s to get very good grades in school and to do well on tests. Yerkes [41] 35.” R. Thurstone [37] 31. Terman quoted in [35] 30. “. W. the ability of a system to act appropriately in an uncertain environment. . . and the capacity to realise the modified instinctive adjustment in overt behavior to the advantage of the individual as a social animal. Young quoted in [20] 4 AI researcher definitions 1. the term intelligence designates a complexly interrelated assemblage of functions. Intelligence is therefore the capacity for abstraction. J. . . Fogel [10] This section lists definitions from researchers in artificial intelligence. .” L.” D.” H. the capacity to redefine the inhibited instinctive adjustment in the light of imaginally experienced trial and error. unfinished stage of formation. . that faculty of mind by which order is perceived in a situation previously considered disordered. .” Stoddard 29. and success is the achievement of behavioral subgoals that support the system’s ultimate goal. .people have different goals for themselves. “. W. . M. Woodrow quoted in [35] 34. “Intelligence. Albus [1] 2.” D. L. Sternberg [36] 28.” L. and (7) the emergence of originals. “The capacity to acquire capacity. (6) social value. considered as a mental trait. is the capacity to make impulses focal at their early. . (3) abstractness. no one of which is completely or accurately known in man . Yerkes and A.

“[An intelligent agent does what] is appropriate for its circumstances and its goal. and work well. Newell and H. the ability to solve hard problems. Hutter [21] 9.” P. Kurzweil [20] 7. “Intelligence is the power to rapidly find an adequate solution in what appears a priori (to observers) to be an immense search space.” R. . Lenat and E.” J.” Schank [32] 16.” R.” J. “. . .” H. McCarthy [25] 11. “.” K.” D. “Achieving complex goals in complex environments” B. many animals and some machines. . “Intelligence is the ability to use optimally limited resources – including time – to achieve goals. the mental ability to sustain successful life. “[Performance intelligence is] the successful (i. “.e. it is flexible to changing environments and changing goals. Wang [39] 17. goal-achieving) performance of the system in a complicated environment. . R. A. Horst [18] 6. Minsky [26] 12. “. Their property of intelligence allows them to maximize the probability of success even if full knowledge of the situation is not available. Functioning of intelligent systems cannot be considered separately from the environment and the concrete situation including the goal. Poole [31] 15. Masum [24] 10. in many different environments. it learns from experience. . Nakashima [27] 13. “Intelligent systems are expected to work. . in any real situation behavior appropriate to the ends of the system and adaptive to the demands of the environment can occur. within some limits of speed and complexity. “Intelligence is the ability for an information processing system to adapt to its environment with insufficient knowledge and resources. Feigenbaum [23] 8. Legg and M. The criteria of properness are not predefined and hence not available beforehand. Gudwin [15] 5. and it makes appropriate choices given perceptual limitations and finite computation.” M. They are acquired as a result of the information processing.” A. “Intelligence is the computational part of the ability to achieve goals in the world. “Intelligence measures an agent’s ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments.” S. A. Varying kinds and degrees of intelligence occur in people. “Intelligence means getting better over time. ..” D. Goertzel [12] 4. Simon [29] 14. doing well at a broad range of tasks is an empirical definition of ‘intelligence’ ” H. Warwick quoted in [4] 7 . “Intelligence is the ability to process information properly in a complex environment.3.

Voss [38] Is a single definition possible? In matters of definition. Journal of Counseling and Development. see [21] or our forthcoming journal paper. [3] M. • Depends on how able to agent is to adapt to different objectives and environments. What counselors should know about the use and interpretation of psychological tests. it is difficult to argue that there is an objective sense in which one definition could be considered to be the correct one. Achieving this with ‘artificial general intelligence’ (AGI) requires a highly adaptive. . Hutter Features such as the ability to learn and adapt. • Is related to the agent’s ability to succeed or profit with respect to some goal or objective. Nevertheless. Outline for a theory of intelligence. “Intelligence measures an agent’s ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments. If we scan through the definitions pulling out commonly occurring features we find that intelligence is: • A property that an individual agent has as it interacts with its environment or environments. 1991. Anderson. domain-independent skills necessary for acquiring a wide range of domain-specific knowledge – the ability to learn anything. IEEE Trans. precise and general than others. “.” S. For a more comprehensive explanation. Intelligence. References [1] J. Legg and M.18. MS Encarta online encyclopedia. Putting these key attributes together produces the informal definition of intelligence that we have adopted. general-purpose system that can autonomously acquire an extremely wide range of specific knowledge and skills and can improve its own cognitive ability through self-directed learning. 1992. . along with a mathematical formalisation of the above definition. Man and Cybernetics. 2006. 21(3):473–509. Systems.” P. S. Furthermore. Albus. it is clear that many of the definitions listed above are strongly related to each other and share many common features. 8 . are implicit in the above definition as these capacities enable an agent to succeed in a wide range of environments. Anastasi. 70(5):610– 615. the essential. or to understand. [2] A. some definitions are clearly more concise.

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