Voices and Ideas

An Equation for Intelligence

By Sarah Vukalovic

Alex Wissner-Gross, a member of Phi Beta Kappa since 2003, is an MIT grad with an impressive list of awards and credentials. Upon his graduation eleven years ago, Wissner-Gross became the last person in the school’s history to receive a triple major, earning a bachelors degree in physics, electrical engineering, and mathematics. He went on to receive a Ph.D in physics at Harvard University, and has since been awarded immense recognition for his work as a scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur.

It seems that the young man with an answer for everything may be able to explain his profound intelligence, as well.  

Wissner-Gross’s latest scientific endeavor has garnered media attention from major publications including the New Yorker. His recent scientific publication proposes an equation for intelligence that has the potential to greatly alter our use of robotics and computer programming for what, at least right now, are the distinctly human activities of networking, economics, and travel, to name a few.

Wissner-Gross recently provided an explanation of his findings in a presentation for TED Talks, a non-profit initiative that focuses on technology, entertainment, and design and operates under the slogan of “ideas worth spreading.”

The young scientist began his studies years ago by searching through many “threads” across a variety of disciplines to determine a single, underling factor common to all intelligence.  

“Our universe appears to be finely tuned for the development of intelligence, and in particular, for the development of universal states that maximize the diversity of possible futures,” Wissner-Gross explained.

Diversity of possible futures, or retaining the greatest possible amount of freedom, is central to Wissner-Gross’s theory. Intelligence, he argues, is based on freedom of action. Moreover, the best techniques that demonstrate this intelligence maximize future options. These concepts, he claims, may be calculated mathematically in an equation that ultimately measures entropic force against diversity of future action:


F = T Sτ.

Though the equation itself may be difficult for those less familiar with advanced physics and mathematics, Wissner-Gross explains it simply:

“In short, intelligence doesn’t like to get trapped.”

To test his equation, Wissner-Gross and his researchers developed software, dubbed Entropica, based on the calculation. The software was simply designed to maximize the production of long-term entropy in whatever system it encountered. Their results, however, were remarkable.

“Amazingly, Entropica was able to pass multiple animal intelligence tests, play human games, and even earn money trading stocks, all without being instructed to do so,” Wissner-Gross remarked.

There are both exciting, and potentially eerie consequences of the date. Wissner-Gross pointed out the profound irony in his findings, recalling the human tendency to believe in a potential cybernetic revolt since the introduction of robotics, as displayed in the many man-versus-machine science-fiction films.


“One major consequence of this work is that maybe all of these decades we’ve had the whole concept of cybernetic revolt in reverse. It’s not that machines first become intelligent…it’s quite the opposite, that the urge to take control over all possible futures is a more fundamental principle than that of intelligence, and general intelligence may in fact emerge directly from this sort of control-grabbing, rather than vice versa.”


Sarah Vukalovic is a senior at the University of Dallas majoring in Philosophy. The University of Dallas is home to the Eta of Texas Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.


(Posted on 3/20/2014 )