Minds and Machines

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 179–210 | Cite as

On Potential Cognitive Abilities in the Machine Kingdom

  • José Hernández-OralloEmail author
  • David L. Dowe


Animals, including humans, are usually judged on what they could become, rather than what they are. Many physical and cognitive abilities in the ‘animal kingdom’ are only acquired (to a given degree) when the subject reaches a certain stage of development, which can be accelerated or spoilt depending on how the environment, training or education is. The term ‘potential ability’ usually refers to how quick and likely the process of attaining the ability is. In principle, things should not be different for the ‘machine kingdom’. While machines can be characterised by a set of cognitive abilities, and measuring them is already a big challenge, known as ‘universal psychometrics’, a more informative, and yet more challenging, goal would be to also determine the potential cognitive abilities of a machine. In this paper we investigate the notion of potential cognitive ability for machines, focussing especially on universality and intelligence. We consider several machine characterisations (non-interactive and interactive) and give definitions for each case, considering permanent and temporal potentials. From these definitions, we analyse the relation between some potential abilities, we bring out the dependency on the environment distribution and we suggest some ideas about how potential abilities can be measured. Finally, we also analyse the potential of environments at different levels and briefly discuss whether machines should be designed to be intelligent or potentially intelligent.


Cognitive abilities Machine intelligence measurement (Universal) Turing machines Universality probability Potential intelligence (Universal) Psychometrics 



We thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments, which have helped to significantly improve this paper. This work was supported by the MEC-MINECO projects CONSOLIDER-INGENIO CSD2007-00022 and TIN 2010-21062-C02-02, GVA project PROMETEO/2008/051, the COST - European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research IC0801 AT. Finally, we thank three pioneers ahead of their time(s). We thank Ray Solomonoff (1926–2009) and Chris Wallace (1933–2004) for all that they taught us, directly and indirectly. And, in his centenary year, we thank Alan Turing (1912–1954), with whom it perhaps all began.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DSIC, Universitat Politècnica de ValènciaValènciaSpain
  2. 2.Computer Science and Software Engineering, Clayton School of Information TechnologyMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia

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