Olivier Houdé

Human Intelligence is Not an Algorithm

Olivier Houdé, who began as a school teacher, trained in child psychology, then in the neurosciences, is one of France’s most eminent psychologists. Professor at the University of Paris, honorary director at the Sorbonne of the Laboratoire de Psychologie du Développement et de l’Éducation de l’enfant [Laboratory for the Psychology of Child Development and Education] (LaPsyDÉ) at the CNRS, the author of many well-received books, this is his first book published by Odile Jacob.

Today, there is much talk of intelligence, whether it involves the biological circuits of the brain or the electronic circuits of computers, those of artificial intelligence. But what is intelligence? In the past, Alfred Binet proposed a way of measuring it, the origin of the often criticized IQ. Later, Jean Piaget explored the stages of intelligence in the child, from infancy to adulthood, as a succession of increasingly abstract and effective logico-mathematical algorithms.

Since the work of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, this overly rational and logical view of intelligence has been challenged, and we now know that our opinions and decisions are most often ruled by very quick intuitions, based on erroneous cognitive biases which are called heuristic. This explains our inconsistencies!

To overcome this paradox, Olivier Houdé in this book offers a new theory of intelligence in three circuits: the short circuit of approximate heuristics; the long circuit of exact algorithms; and the inhibitor circuit that blocks heuristics, on a case by case basis, depending on the goal and the context. It is that subtle inhibition that is the key to intelligence in the brain and that must be trained or coded!