Make your own free website on

Quantitative Measure of Intelligence

Othman Ahmad, A.M. Alvarez & Chan Choong Wah

School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore




A method of measuring intelligence quantitatively in units of bits based on information theory is presented. The method of measurement is simple because the proposed definition of intelligence gives only a quantitative measure of the thinking process distinguishable from the information processing part and knowledge. It also treats intelligence as a resource and predicts that a C compiler uses more intelligence per instruction than a Spice program. The term "capability for intelligence" is introduced and shows that a human being may have a much higher capability for intelligence than a microprocessor. The amount of intelligence measured can be used to develop more intelligent microprocessors and algorithms, instead of using only brute-force parallelism which requires a lot of hardware.




                Standard text books on artificial intelligence0,0 are not known to describe a quantitative measure of intelligence. The widely quoted test for artificial intelligence, the Alan Turing test, is only a subjective one. It does not allocate intelligence units to an object.

                Intelligence had been viewed with awe for a long time. There is a believe that only human beings can have intelligence and intelligence cannot really be measured judged from the failures of the known human intelligence tests such as IQ(intelligence quotient) test. By breaking this mystical view of intelligence and treating it like any scientific concept, hopefully we can make rapid advances in creating intelligent machines.

                In discussing a controversial topic such as this measure of intelligence, it is worthwhile for us to consider the methodologies which may be used. Among the most successful method is the scientific method.

                Quoted from Marion & Hornyak0,


1              Scientific method is to base conclusions on the results of observations and experiments, analyzed by logic and reason.

2              Scientific method is not a prescription for learning scientific truth.

3              The ultimate answer to any question concerning natural phenomena must be the result of experimental measurement.

4              A theory attempts to explain why nature behaves as it does.

5              To construct a theory, we introduce certain unexplained fundamental concepts e.g. energy, time, space and electric charge.

6              Laws of physics tell how things behave in terms of the theory.

7              Theories are judged based on predictive power, comprehensiveness and simplicity.


                To be useful to an engineer, it must also allow him to minimize cost (in dollars) in solving a problem.

                Allen Newell0 noted that intelligence is different from knowledge and does not discount that intelligence can be quantitatively measured. G.N. Saridis0 uses similar ideas outlined in this paper, in measuring the intelligence of a control system as its total entropy, by minimizing this intelligence value for maximum precision. The quantitative measure in this paper is more general and works at lower levels than that used by G.N. Saridis. Another view of this method, especially for students of artificial intelligence, is presented in Appendix A.

                In line with the scientific method, we do not explain the concept of intelligence because it is treated as one of those unexplained concepts such as energy.


                               INTELLIGENCE THEORY


                Based on our usual observation, an object that just do repetitive tasks is considered as less intelligent. The reverse, that is an object that do not do repetitive tasks can be considered to be more intelligent. If the tasks are done repeatedly in the same pattern, we should be able to predict the tasks which may be executed. Therefore we can conclude that an object that executes predictable tasks has less intelligence and vice versa, that is, an intelligent object is capable of autonomous operations and the operations are executed in an unpredictable manner.

                The operations are identified by assigning a unique symbol to each one of them. We must first consider the case when we do not have access to the way the operations are generated and the amount of time that we observe the operations are limited(sampling time).

                If we just consider the symbols and the occurrence of these symbols as events then information theory can be applied.

                The amount of information is proportional to the degree of unpredictability. An event that is sure to happen has zero information.


Definition (1):

                The information I(xi) of an event X=xi with probability P(xi) is


                                                                                MEANING EXTRACTION PROCESS


 OBJECT (Symbol) 6 MEANING (Symbol)


Compiler Terms


lexical analysis




syntax analysis




semantic analysis



Operations on symbols


convert text to unique objects by giving unique symbols




find relationship between objects and assigning unique symbols to each relationship



convert relationship symbols to predefined actions


Figure 1





                Equation 1 is known as the logarithmic measure of information as proposed by C. E. Shannon. P(xi) is not the self-information as described by Proakis0, it's relationship to previous occurrences of xi is not stated so it can depend on any of them in various degrees.

                This implies that a perfect truth table (or any highly parallel network structures such as Neural Networks), which gives a definite output for a fixed input pattern, has zero information generating value. They do not use intelligence for their functions. They must have enough predictive hardware to store all possible combinations of input and output patterns. Our intuition tells us that this predictive hardware is what we usually call knowledge. Although knowledge is not defined in an information theoretic way here, it gives a possible direction for future research work.


Definition (2):

                In order to have autonomous operation, a machine must have memory to store instructions. The number of instructions in such machine is its program size, Z.

                An autonomous machine which executes instructions in a predictable manner (instructions such as unconditional branches) has zero intelligence because the information content of all possible events (execution of instructions) is zero.


Definition (3):

                A unit instruction at time t, at, is an indivisible event in time, and can be stored in one unit of memory (the unit of the memory must be sufficient to store all possible instruction sizes). The number of unit-instructions which can be stored is Z.


Definition (4):

                The intelligence content, Q, of a sequence of instructions from time t=0 to T, is the total information content of that occurrence of instructions, I(at).


Equation 2 represents the joint probability of events as the product of the probability of each event.

                Definitions 1-4 imply that each instruction has equal importance. Therefore an instruction that executes a complex pattern matching in one cycle has the same weight as an instruction that does nothing (NOP). This result comes from equation 1. A program (a sequence of instructions) may have a large intelligence content but zero information processing ability.

                Please note that we are only measuring the intelligence content of a machine, not its throughput. A stupid machine can be very productive indeed. The semantic content of an instruction can also be represented by a symbol so this model assumes that syntax is identical to semantics. Jumarie0 attempted to relate symbols and meanings but it introduces more complexity. It should be apparent that the meaning of a symbol is determined by consensus, e.g. a pen is red because we all agree that it is red, not by reason(1). The different languages describing "red" are just redundancies.




                Intelligence can be thought of as a resource which should be used at the correct circumstances, similar to energy and time. There must be a time, space and intelligence relationship whereby we can increase intelligence only to increase the time of processing (number of sequential instructions) but decreasing the space requirement (less hardware). For the same information processing rate, increasing parallelism in the program (by utilising more hardware) results in the reduction in the number of sequential instructions (implying a reduction in intelligence). Of course we can design circumstances whereby we optimise all these relationships where we can get  the maximum intelligence while reducing time by maximising the number of random conditional branches.

                An analogy is a student trying to take his examination. He has 2 options open to him. One is to remember as much as possible so that he can just regurgitate facts with little intelligence. The other is to concentrate on deductive reasoning by remembering only key concepts from which he can recover information or even invent alternative solutions. The second method can be called the more intelligent method whereas the first one is more of a reflex action. The throughput is the number of correct answers, which may be the same for both cases.

                A stupid machine may look intelligent if it is controlled by pseudo-random sequence generators which is common in Spread Spectrum systems. However pseudo-random is actually predictable. The degree of randomness (or the inverse, predictability), is dependent on the period of the sequences. The pattern of the sequences can only be detected if we are able to sample twice the period of one complete cycle of sequences. The information content measurable is dependent on the sampling period that the observer can make.

                If we have full access to the algorithm of the code generation, we would discover that the intelligence of the pseudo-random pattern generator is virtually zero.

                If the observer has no access, he must try to obtain as many samples as he can. The information content that he has measured of the pseudo-random generator is his perceived intelligence of the pseudo-random generator, which must be wrong if the observer has not broken the code generation algorithm. Definitions 1-4 does not fail to quantify the intelligence of the pseudo-random generator, it is just that the sampling time is not sufficient.


                        MICROPROCESSOR EXAMPLE


                The development of this measure of intelligence is due to efforts in analyzing the critical information flow in microprocessors(2). Let us apply these definitions to a typical general purpose program running on a typical microprocessor.

                A program counter generates the pattern which identify the instructions which may be executed. The sampling period is the time that the value of the program counter changes.

                The only instructions which may have intelligence are the conditional branches. Some conditional branches such as those used in loops are very predictable. Although we have defined intelligence, the  actual amount of information is very hard to determine. We have to resort to statistical sampling techniques and make some assumptions which will reduce the accuracy of our measurement.

                Let us assume that only and all conditional branches are truly random, there are bS of them, where S is the number of instructions which have been executed and each branch may choose B # Z equally likely addresses. For a DLX0 microprocessor B=2. For man, B is very large. B determines the capacity for intelligence. For the same microprocessor DLX, b are 0.20 and 0.05 for Free Software Foundation's GNU C Compiler and Spice respectively.






H in equation 3 is the average intelligence(entropy) of each instruction measured at each instruction execution. For simple problems (requiring less B), the rate of intelligence of a machine is higher than man.

                We can conclude that a C compiler program  uses more intelligence per step(b) than Spice which is mainly a numerical program, and total intelligence depends only on b, B and S.

                If a microprocessor is to be designed for highly intelligent programs, such as expert systems, it must be optimised for minimal pipeline flushes on conditional jumps and each conditional branch may choose many instructions. We now have a concrete guideline in designing microprocessors.




                This measure should reinforce our intuition about our intelligence versus reflex action. Pattern recognition is just a reflex action after a period of training. Initially a lot of intelligence is required to incorporate knowledge into our memory. After the initial training period, we require less intelligence. Parallel brute force hardware is not the ultimate solution. They still need intelligent pre and post processors which is more likely to be sequential.

                Although a human being has a lot of organs that exploit parallelism, our consciousness is sequential. It seems as though there is a master computer which is sequential (Von Neumann Machine) which controls other distributed processors of various degrees of intelligence. This argues the case for SIMD supercomputers which may have slave MIMD machines.




                Four definitions are proposed to be used for  measuring intelligence quantitatively in units of bits based on information theory. This intelligence theory is used to


Figure 2: Information Theoretical Analysis of a Processor:


support some microprocessor design decisions and verified using data for C compiler and Spice programs. The results match with our normal intuition that a C compiler uses more intelligence than Spice. The definitions of intelligence for quantitative measure is simplified through deliberate and careful study by separating intelligence from knowledge and information processing. Hopefully its predictive power can be verified further through more exhaustive study of programs that can be thought of as intelligent, such as expert systems, in line with the objectives of the scientific method. However care must be taken in using these knowledge based systems because they can be deterministic in their operations. It is not surprising because knowledge and intelligence are interchangeable provided there is sufficient hardware to do the prediction through its knowledge database. In addition, the importance of sampling period is shown and the term "capability for intelligence" introduced to explain the fact that a human being is capable of great intelligence compared to existing computers.




                The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of the staff of the Nanyang Technological University, especially P. Saratchandran, who gave critical analysis of the initial ideas and therefore helps to improve the presentation of this paper. However the principal author accepts responsibility for any remaining weaknesses and errors.




[1]           M. W. SHIELDS 'An Introduction to Automata Theory' Blackwell Scientific Publications (1987)

[2]           G. F. LUGER, W. A. STUBBLEFIELD 'Artificial Intelligence and the Design of Expert Systems' The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc. (1989)

[3]           J.B MARION & W.F. HORNYAK 'Principles of Physics' Saunders College Publishing (1984)

[4]           A. NEWELL 'Unified Theories of Cognition' Harvard University Press (1990)

[5]           G.N. SARIDIS 'An Integrated Theory of Intelligent Machines by Expressing the Control performance as Entropy' Control-Theory and Advanced Technology, Vol 1,No.2,pp.125-138,August 1985,Mita Press

[6]           J.G. PROAKIS 'Digital Communications' 2nd Edition, McGraw-Hill Book Company (1989)

[7]           G. JUMARIE 'Relative Information:Theories and Applications' Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (1990)

[8]           J. L. HENNESSY, D. A. PATTERSON 'Computer Architecture A Quantitative Approach' Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc. (1990)


                                          APPENDIX A


                Lewis Johnson, editor of SigArt, interprets Allen Newell's definition of Intelligence as "the ability of an agent to act in an uncertain environment in order to achieve its goals".

                Can't we quantify the "ability of the agent" by measuring the "uncertainty of the environment" in order to achieve just one particular goal or set of goals?

                We can measure the uncertainty using information theory.  The beauty of using information theory as a definition is that it is exact. However, to measure it would incur measurement error. We must resort to statistical techniques to minimize the error.

                An agent wants to achieve a goal in an uncertain environment. In order to achieve it he must do something. He must have alternatives. Otherwise it would be impossible for him to achieve the goal. If he cannot even generate the alternatives then he must be stupid. No point in measuring his intelligence.

                The number of alternatives which are required to solve a goal in an uncertain environment would indicate the uncertainty of the environment. The more alternatives, the more uncertain the environment. The goal is just one of the alternatives. The uncertainty is just by "definition" to be log2 of the number of alternatives. Let us say this is INTL bits of uncertainty.

                This definition is the  information theory stated in a different way to make it clearer to students of AI. Why should we use log2?

                If the agent can generate all alternatives in just one step, then we may say that he has generated INTL bits of intelligence, because he has managed to reach his goal in an environment with INTL bits of uncertainty.

                The above paragraph is just a standard measurement theory. For example, the horse power is defined by the rate that a particular horse can drag a particular weight. If an engine can drag the same weight at the same rate,  then that engine has one horse power.

                He may just generate 2 alternatives at one step. He would therefore need many steps to come to the goal. If there is no loss in generating alternatives, he would need INTL steps.

                For example: let INTL =3 so there are 23=8 alternatives. At each step he can eliminate half of the alternatives because the solutions must be possible. The alternatives are stored in his knowledge data base. If he can't eliminate half of the alternatives, then there is loss. We are making an assumption that there is no loss. This loss reflects how efficient the decision tree is built up. So he must take 3 steps to reach his goal. On the other hand the decision tree may not be balanced, leading to other deviations.

                Log22 is 1. Therefore he can generate intelligence of 1 bit per step. His capability for intelligence is 1 bit per step.

                For each step he uses his intelligence resource. When he reaches his goal, he has used up 3 intelligence bits, which is the same as the uncertainty of the environment.

                The amount of intelligence required is 3 bits, the uncertainty of the environment. The amount of intelligence used by the agent is 3 bits because there is no loss.  Because we are using logarithmic scale, we can just add all them up. If we use number of alternatives as units, then we must use division or multiplication.

                Please note that the definitions for quantitative measure of intelligence which is presented is not just unpredictability. In fact it is the ability to generate unpredictable sequences of instructions.

                My discussions above assume that we have full access to the  knowledge data base and the agent's ability to test alternatives.

                What happens if we just observe from outside? If the environment for the goal were very uncertain, then we would observe that the agents generate various alternatives which the observer cannot be certain of.

                If the observer can only have access to one time slice equivalent to the time slice that the agent generates one alternative, then we would have to add the intelligence units measured at each step to come up with a method to measure the total intelligence units consumed by the agent in coming to that goal. What happens if we are capable of observing all 3 steps and get enough samples to decode the goal for each input. We simulate the goal by just using look‑up table. For each input there must be a goal. The size of this lookup table(in bits) depends on the uncertainty of the environment.

                So there are 2 methods of achieving the same goal:

1)Generating alternatives for each input step by step which takes longer or

2)Using lookup table which is faster but needs more storage bits.

                We can generalize that 1 is using intelligence, 2 is using knowledge.

                Expert systems are just interpreters or compilers. The rules are the grammar. The objects are the tokens. A C compiler can be viewed as an expert system with C language syntax as its knowledge database.

                If it is not intelligence, what actually it is that we are measuring? What is the relationship between knowledge and this quantity? How do we define the quantitative measure of knowledge?