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This content is taken from the Coventry University & Institute of Coding's online course, Artificial Intelligence: Distinguishing Between Fact and Fiction. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsA father and son are out driving. Their car crashes and both are rushed to hospital. The son is taken down for surgery. In the operating theatre, the surgeon looks at the patient and says, “I cannot operate on this patient. He is my son”. How can this be? The unconscious mind is extremely powerful. It can process a vast amount more information than our conscious mind by using shortcuts based on our background, upbringing, cultural environment and personal experiences. This is so we can make instantaneous decisions about the world around us. The problem is it's wrong quite a lot of time. Especially on matters that need rational thinking. The answer to the riddle is that the surgeon is the son’s mother.

Skip to 1 minute and 7 secondsThe majority of people are baffled by this and get it wrong. This is because our subconscious mind uses instinct and not analysis. This is where AI can be of real benefit. AI machine systems are based on algorithms. They can be smart once educated to react to certain instances in a variety of different circumstances. In theory an AI enabled machine when confronted with this question would give the only logical response, the boy’s mother. Does this happen in practice or do AI machines actually reflect the biases of their human creators? In addition, if this was an ethical dilemma and a choice between saving the father or son the AI may be at a disadvantage.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 secondsThis is because AI lacks empathy, emotion and can be restrictive. So, what do you think is more powerful? Natural human intelligence or artificial intelligence? What is their relationship with one another? Lets explore this in more detail throughout this short course.

Welcome to the course

Watch this short video introduction which explores the difference between natural and artificial intelligence (AI).

So what are ‘Natural’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ exactly? Since the course explores the differences and similarities between the two key concepts, it is important to know. According to Bryson (2019) natural intelligence is:

…all the systems of control present in biology

including human and animal brains, systems in plants and intelligence distributed among groups such as communities of humans and ant colonies.

Artificial intelligence by way of contrast is

…the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs’** (McCarthy n.d.).

In Week 1, we’ll examine historical ideas and differing perspectives on natural intelligence. This will lead us onto Week 2, in which we’ll look at animal and human learning and Alan Turing’s scholarship following his codebreaking work during the second world war at Bletchley Park. You’ll also learn about current state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, including manufacturing and social robotics and, by the end of the course, you should be able to separate the speculation surrounding AI, from the reality of how far we really are from achieving human-like intelligence.

We look forward to exploring these topics with you over the next week and to providing you with the tools to help you understand how you might improve your own area of practice.

This week, we’ll look at:

  • The historical perspective of intelligence
  • The biological perspective of intelligence
  • The cognitive perspective of intelligence
  • The computational perspective of intelligence

This short course is the introductory two-week course of the Artificial Intelligence Ethics for Business program, which forms part of the Master of Business Administration (Artificial Intelligence) online degree at Coventry University, delivered via FutureLearn.

Your task

What are you most looking forward to seeing in this course?

Post your thoughts in the comments area.

Meet the team

Your lead educator is Huma Shah, assistant professor, School of Computing, Electronics and Maths at Coventry University.

You can follow Huma and see all the comments that she makes via her FutureLearn profile page.

Checking your progress

Don’t forget, you can check your progress page, where you’ll see what percentage of the course steps you’ve marked as complete, via the icon at the top of the step.

And finally

Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the task in the comments area and like or reply to posts you find useful or interesting.


Bryson, J., J. (2019) ‘Understanding Natural Intelligence’ [online]. available from http://www.cs.bath.ac.uk/~jjb/web/uni.html [22 April 2020]

McCarthy, J. (n.d.) ‘What is AI/Basic Questions’ Stanford Computer Science [online]. available from http://jmc.stanford.edu/artificial-intelligence/what-is-ai/index.html [22 April 2020]

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This video is from the free online course:

Artificial Intelligence: Distinguishing Between Fact and Fiction

Coventry University