Musing on Intelligence — Part 3: Motivation


In Part 1 of this series I explored how people define intelligence, which is often in the eyes of the beholder; and I also gave an example of how emergence of intelligence can be wrongly attributed.  In Part 2, I suggested that artificial intelligence (AI), or recreating human-like intelligence, requires a holistic understanding of human intelligence, so that proper behavior can be modeled and implemented.  I also suggested for that we need to turned to biology, psychology, neural science and brain studies.  In this blog post I will explore motivation, a key concept from psychology, that may help us understand and model human-like intelligence.

Motivation and Core Values

What motivates us to act?  Isaac Asimov postulated Three Laws of Robotics, as the fundamental rules that govern a robot’s behavior:

  1. Robot shall not injure a human being through action or inaction.
  2. Robot must obey orders unless such orders conflict with the First Law.
  3. Robot must protect itself as long as it does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Are there equivalent rules, or core values that govern how humans or other biological systems act?   Motivation theorists suggested that behaviors are driven by needs:

  1. Biological needs: such as hunger, thirst, and physical needs.
  2. Stimulus needs: such as sensory stimulation, exploration, curiosity etc.
  3. Social needs: such as achievement, power, affiliation, and other social experiences.

Abraham Maslow further proposed the Hierarchy of Needs:

  • Physiological needs: such as food, water, warmth, rest, etc.
  • Safety needs: security, safety, shelter etc.
  • Belongingness: intimacy, friendships, social relationships
  • Esteem needs: prestige, feelings of accomplishment, social acceptance.
  • Self-actualization: achieving ones potential.

maslowshierarchyofneeds-svgand he further suggested that until lower-level needs are met, higher level needs may not come into play.  In this theory, behaviors become response to unmet needs.  If one compares the lifestyles of people in different economic brackets even with different ethnicity or country of origin, Maslow’s theory seem to ring true–people preoccupied with survival are less likely thinking about how to satisfy their egos.

In Part 4, the next installment of this series, I will discuss how the hierarchy of human brain structure seems to also support the concept of hierarchy.


(The above article is solely the expressed opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the position of his current and past associations)

Leave a Reply