SOCIETY | Sep 25, 2018

AI: can intellectual capacity be predicted?

An algorithm and a brain scan are sufficient for calculating IQ

I am usually enthusiastic about the predictive capacity of Artificial Intelligence. The capacity of algorithms to show me data in a way that is totally different from what I see is always a surprise for me and, sometimes, a real gift.

Precisely because of this nascent passion, I often go online looking for new outlets, ideas or applications.


… it’s time to confess!

Today I came across an article titled “Caltech Scientists Can Predict Intelligence from Brain Scans”. The half-title specifies: “If you’ve ever lied about your IQ (intelligence quotient) to seem more intelligent, it’s time to fess up. Scientists can now tell how smart you are just by looking at a scan of your brain” and, almost apologizing, closes with a: “But predicting personality, not so much”.

The source is Caltech or the California Institute of Technology which, in collaboration with the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the University of Salerno, has developed an algorithm able to read brain activity data and, in particular, changes in the blood stream in specific regions of the brain, detected thanks to Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), and to develop a map of brain activity that translates into a prediction of “intelligence”.

In short, the algorithm is able to relate the blood flow data of a mind at rest and, thanks to blood movements, predict the intellectual capacity of the patient.

An algorithm for intelligence

To train the algorithm, the team of experts used data from about 900 individuals: the results of their resonances were compared with test results on their IQ, generating a comparison and subsequent deduction.

But what intelligence are we talking about? Why an algorithm for intelligence? The answer is simple, and makes less of an impression than the opening of the article: if we could diagnose intelligence we could also work by default and perhaps be able to identify conditions such as autism, schizophrenia or anxiety, being able to intervene and support those people in an absolutely proactive manner and ahead of their manifestation.

Why exactly intelligence?

From the article it is clear that they started from this measurement because intelligence (in the strict sense of IQ) is a datum that changes very little during the years of maximum brain activity, allowing an evaluation with a datum that remains essentially constant for a significant number of years.

Intelligence and personality

A parallel study also tried to evaluate personality traits, but with very little success, also based on the fact that the questionnaires which evaluate this trait of our capacity are varied and aim to give different visions.

So let’s prepare ourselves: our children will attach a magnetic resonance to their CVs.

Simona Piacenti