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What’s smarter than a human?

As humans, we often pride ourselves on being the most intelligent species on the planet. Our advanced reasoning skills, language abilities, and technological prowess seem to set us apart from all other animals. However, when it comes to certain types of intelligence, there are actually many non-human entities that surpass us.


Computers can process information and perform calculations at speeds that leave even the brightest human minds in the dust. The world’s most advanced supercomputers are capable of performing quadrillions of calculations per second, while the average human brain can process only about 60 bits of information per second. Thanks to their superior processing power, computers can beat humans in complex tasks like mathematical calculation, strategy games such as chess, and data analysis.

While computers rely heavily on processing power, their capabilities are still limited in some ways. Unlike the human brain, computers lack contextual understanding and general intelligence. Computers cannot yet match the flexibility and learning capabilities of the human mind.

AI systems

Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are powered by algorithms that allow them to perform tasks typically requiring human-level intelligence. Certain narrowly focused AI applications already exceed human capabilities.

AI image recognition tools can identify objects in images with far greater accuracy than humans. AI systems have achieved more than 99% accuracy in detecting malignant tumors in breast cancer screenings, while the best human radiologists top out at about 75% accuracy.

In fields like pattern recognition, complex gaming strategy, and language processing, AI equals or outpaces human skills. As researchers continue to advance AI technology, these systems are expected to surpass human abilities in more broad domains in the future.

Networked minds

While individual human minds have limited cognitive capabilities, interconnected groups of humans exhibit remarkable intelligence. That’s because networked human groups combine their incomplete perspectives and experiences to create a collective intelligence that transcends individual limitations.

Throughout history, humans have collaborated to achieve what no single human could accomplish alone. Modern communication networks like the internet enable new forms of collective human intelligence on a global scale. Online crowds can jointly solve problems, make predictions, and create new ideas and artworks.

For certain tasks requiring wisdom, creativity, and emotional intelligence, networked human groups may exhibit abilities no individual human or AI system can yet match. Human networks sometimes demonstrate greater resilience as well, because if one node fails, others can often fill in.

Animal intelligence

Many animals possess intellectual abilities that surpass humans’ in specific domains. Here are a few examples:

  • A grey parrot named Alex demonstrated the ability to associate human words with meanings and objects. He could identify 50 different objects and understand concepts like shape, color, and number.
  • Dogs can hear sounds at roughly 4 times the frequency humans can hear. Some dog breeds like Bloodhounds also have a sense of smell that is up to 100,000 times better than a human’s.
  • Bats and dolphins use echolocation to detect tiny variations in echoed sounds undetectable by human ears. This allows them to track objects and navigate in complete darkness.
  • Migratory birds can use the Earth’s magnetic fields to navigate enormous distances with precision. Humans are completely unable to sense magnetic fields without technology.

So while no single animal may match human general intelligence, many exceed human capabilities in specific sensory, cognitive, and physical feats.

Swarm intelligence

When large numbers of simple agents like birds, insects, or robots coordinate through decentralized control, they can exhibit collective intelligence known as swarm intelligence. Ant colonies are a classic example – individual ants have limited cognitive abilities, but the colony as a whole can construct complex nests and find the shortest routes to food sources.

Here are some key features of systems exhibiting swarm intelligence:

  • Many simple agents capable of basic computation and communication
  • Agents follow simple rules using local information
  • Coordination arises through emergence rather than centralized control
  • Robust adaptability to changes in the environment

Some of the most advanced swarm intelligence occurs in termite colonies, which construct gigantic, complex mounds maintaining temperature and ventilation homeostasis. Such capabilities emerge from the interactions of thousands of minimalist agents, far surpassing the abilities of individual termites.

The human brain

Despite some processing limitations compared to computers and narrow deficits vs. specialized animal intelligence, the human brain remains unmatched in its broad, adaptable intelligence. Key features that enable human cognitive abilities include:

  • 86 billion neurons with specialized functions and plasticity
  • Trillions of synaptic connections enabling distributed information processing
  • Structured hierarchies from small, specialized neural nets to large regions handling sensory input, movement, emotions, and executive function.
  • Dense bundles of axons enabling high-bandwidth communication between brain regions
  • Recurrent connections allowing sophisticated information integration over time

The interconnected, adaptable neural networks of the human brain enable capabilities like:

  • accumulative learning from experience
  • generalization of knowledge to novel contexts
  • inferential reasoning and pattern recognition
  • creative problem solving
  • fine motor skills and coordination
  • natural language processing
  • emotional intelligence

These versatile capabilities arise synergistically from the human brain’s hierarchical yet distributed organizational structure.


Different types of intelligence have complementary strengths and weaknesses. Here is a summary of entities that exceed human intelligence in different domains:

Entity How it surpasses human intelligence
Computers Information processing speed and accuracy
AI systems Pattern recognition, complex data analysis
Networked humans Collective learning and creativity
Animals Specialized sensory/cognitive capabilities
Swarm intelligence Coordination of decentralized systems

While the flexible general intelligence of the human brain remains unmatched overall, specialized capabilities of other entities can exceed human limits in certain domains. Ongoing advances in computer processing, AI algorithms, and neuroscience will likely continue expanding the boundaries of non-human intelligence in the future.