3 Distributed intelligence or a simple coherent mental model?

Chris J. K. Williams and Roly Hudson

The word ‘intelligence’ comes from the Latin ‘to understand’ and whatever other interpretation we may put on the word intelligence, understanding must be the starting point. Understanding is at many levels: one might speak of superficial or deep understanding. The deeper the understanding, the more irrelevant details are stripped away. Understanding involves producing a simple, coherent mental model or framework to which new pieces of information can be appended, including design decisions. If a new piece of information does not fit in the frame, either the new piece of information or the frame has to be modified or abandoned.

Understanding is passed from person to person and from generation to generation in many ways: speech and writing, drawings, mathematics and objects. In engineering each generation learns from the past by looking at objects, carts, pumps, mills, bicycles, bridges, dams, cars or aeroplanes. The Fiat 128 of 1969 differs from the 1938 Volkswagen Beetle (largely copied from the 1936 Tatra T97) in thousands of ways, yet the application of intelligence will rank those differences, probably starting with the fact that one has the engine in the rear. The Fiat itself was inspired by Issigonis’s Mini of 1959. Volkswagen engineers chose the Fiat as the starting point for their design of the Golf and the Beetle design became extinct, at least for popular cars. The Citroën ...

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