Understanding Human Intelligence through Human Limitations

Trends Cogn Sci. 2020 Nov;24(11):873-883. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2020.09.001. Epub 2020 Oct 8.


Recent progress in artificial intelligence provides the opportunity to ask the question of what is unique about human intelligence, but with a new comparison class. I argue that we can understand human intelligence, and the ways in which it may differ from artificial intelligence, by considering the characteristics of the kind of computational problems that human minds have to solve. I claim that these problems acquire their structure from three fundamental limitations that apply to human beings: limited time, limited computation, and limited communication. From these limitations we can derive many of the properties we associate with human intelligence, such as rapid learning, the ability to break down problems into parts, and the capacity for cumulative cultural evolution.

Keywords: artificial intelligence; cultural evolution; inductive bias; meta-learning; rational meta-reasoning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Learning