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An Interview with Tim Roberts on Critical Thinking (Part Four)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/05/01


Tim Roberts is the Founder/Administrator of Unsolved Problems. He self-describes in “A Brief and Almost True Biography” as follows: I was definitely born lower-middle class.  Britain was (and probably still is) so stratified that one’s status could be easily classified.  You were only working class if you lived in Scotland or Wales, or in the north of England, or had a really physical job like dustbin-man.  You were only middle class if you lived in the south, had a decent-sized house, probably with a mortgage, and at work you had to use your brain, at least a little. My mother was at the upper end of lower-middle class, my father at the lower. After suffering through the first twenty years of my life because of various deleterious genetically-acquired traits, which resulted in my being very small and very sickly, and a regular visitor to hospitals, I became almost normal in my 20s, and found work in the computer industry.  I was never very good, but demand in those days was so high for anyone who knew what a computer was that I turned freelance, specializing in large IBM mainframe operating systems, and could often choose from a range of job opportunities. As far away as possible sounded good, so I went to Australia, where I met my wife, and have lived all the latter half of my life. Being inherently lazy, I discovered academia, and spent 30 years as a lecturer, at three different universities.  Whether I actually managed to teach anyone anything is a matter of some debate.  The maxim “publish or perish” ruled, so I spent an inordinate amount of time writing crap papers on online education, which required almost no effort. My thoughts, however, were always centred on such pretentious topics as quantum theory and consciousness and the nature of reality.  These remain my over-riding interest today, some five years after retirement. I have a reliance on steroids and Shiraz, and possess an IQ the size of a small planet, because I am quite good at solving puzzles of no importance, but I have no useful real-world skills whatsoever.  I used to know a few things, but I have forgotten most of them.” He discusses: critical thinking; supernatural beliefs; artificial intelligence; computers adjusting algorithms; general intelligence; myths about computers and robots; artificial intelligence; lack of positive developments in the high-IQ societies; boosting the egos of their founders” in regards to high-IQ societies; the future of IQ testing and high-IQ societies; main negative development of IQ testing and high-IQ societies; decline in the importance of IQ; the Unsolved Problems website; contributions to the website; and being a realist.

Keywords: charlatans, critical thinking, general intelligence, supernaturalism, Tim Roberts, Unsolved Problems.

An Interview with Tim Roberts on Critical Thinking: Founder/Administrator, Unsolved Problems (Part Four)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*I assumed “Professor” based on an article. I was wrong. I decided to keep the mistake because the responses and the continual mistake, for the purposes of this interview, adds some personality to the interview, so the humour in a personal error.*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is a good way to teach critical thinking in the young? What is a good way to prevent oneself and others being taken to the cleaners by charlatans?

Tim Roberts: Oh, a topic dear to my heart. We should be teaching critical thinking, and science, which is almost the same thing, from the earliest days of primary school. If George is a crow, and all crows are black, what can we deduce? If only some crows are black, what can we deduce? What if George is not a crow? If someone claims that all elephants have trunks, how might we find out if this is true? Would we adopt the same methods to find out if all giraffes had trunks? How certain could we be in each case?

2. Jacobsen: Why are human beings enamored with supernatural beliefs?

Roberts: I don’t know, but it could be related to the lack of critical thinking skills mentioned above!

3. Jacobsen: Following the previous question, what hopes for the main dreams of artificial intelligence research will turn out as duds, fakes, and frauds – ‘dreams’ as simply fantasies? What dreams may be realized in the 21st century with, what is termed, artificial intelligence?

Roberts: I see no evidence of duds and fakes and frauds. There are many who think that we were created in God’s image, and therefore can claim superior status. I am not one of them.

There is also a widespread, but completely false, belief that computers and robots are only as good as their programmers. This is demonstrably a myth, since computers can now learn, and adjust their own algorithms. In much the same way as a baby or infant or toddler does, and as we all continue to do to greater or lesser extents throughout our lives.

4. Jacobsen: Does this ability of computers to learn and adjust their algorithms constitute the next step towards true artificial intelligence and artificial general intelligence?

Roberts: It is an essential ingredient, I think.

5. Jacobsen: What defines human intelligence? What defines artificial intelligence? What relates human intelligence and artificial intelligence in a larger definition of intelligence? That which encapsulates both.

Roberts: General intelligence is I think an ability to understand the world sufficiently to be able to make successful predictions, and optimise reward over effort.

6. Jacobsen: What are other myths about computers and robots? What truths dispel them?

Roberts: Well, people are very scared of computers controlling airplanes, and will be so of cars too, of course. And maybe rightly so. But at the same time one should appreciate that the vast majority of accidents, and fatalities, are caused by human error.

7. Jacobsen: How has artificial intelligence in its current development changed human life? How will developments over the course of the 21st century continue to impact human life and societies, even systems of governance, more and more?

Roberts: The answer to this depends on how one defines AI, but it could be argued that just about all technological advances of the last 50 years have been due either directly or indirectly to AI. As to the future, my predictions are no more likely to be correct those of anyone else. They would include the almost exclusive use of autonomous vehicles, not just on the road, but also on the water and in the air. The universal acceptance of body implants, to aid sight and hearing and taste and smell and mobility. And to communicate with others across the world without the need to carry ‘phones. I suspect it will be routine to have numerous microchips implanted around the skull area in particular.

8. Jacobsen: Observing the developments of the alternative intelligence tests above 4-sigma and the proliferation of the societies for different levels of high scorers since personal involvement, what seems like the main positive developments?

Roberts: None that I can see. Many high-IQ societies primarily serve little purpose except to boost the egos of their founders. Some publish magazines or journals that are read by perhaps a few dozen people at most. Of far more productive use have been societies and organizations that bring together people with enthusiasm for, and expertise in, particular academic and scientific fields of study, regardless of their individual members’ IQs.

9. Jacobsen: How did so many devolve to “boosting the egos of their founders”?

Roberts: I think having a high IQ is not enough to create interest or bind people together, so societies and groups based on IQ alone tend to founder. As opposed to other groups based on a love of bee-keeping, or cross-stitch, or whatever.

10. Jacobsen: What seems like the future of IQ testing and high-IQ societies in the 21st century?

Roberts: It is a fad appealing to a small minority, much like collecting stamps or teaspoons or beer mats, or trainspotting. Whether it will develop into something useful in the future we can wait and see, but I am not unduly optimistic.

11. Jacobsen: What seems like the main negative development?

Roberts: The fostering of the largely-false idea that IQ is important in any significant way.

12. Jacobsen: IQ was considered much more important in the past. What is its current stature, given the previous response? Of the small ways IQ is significant, how is it significant?

Roberts: It is another way people can be differentiated, not unlike gender or skin colour or ethnicity.

13. Jacobsen: You host the website Unsolved Problems. It states an interest in Number Theory, Logic, and Cryptography. What have been some of the positive feedback on the website?

Roberts: The Unsolved Problems site originated partly because of my feelings towards the Clay Millennium prizes, which were supposed at least in part to encourage an interest in mathematics. But they ended up doing nothing of the sort, since the problems were all of such a complexity that they could only be understood by professional mathematicians.

My own very modest site was aimed from the very beginning squarely at amateurs and those who might enjoy thinking about numbers and puzzles. Rather like me, really.

In this, the site has succeeded, but only for a very few. But maybe unbeknownst to me it has inspired some youngsters to ponder such things, who may in later years take up careers in mathematics, and maybe make real breakthroughs. Though I suspect my optimism in this regard may be wildly exaggerated.

14. Jacobsen: What do you consider some of your more important contributions to the areas of research listed on the website?

Roberts: Easy. None.

15. Jacobsen: Do you consider yourself an optimistic or a pessimistic person?

Roberts: Neither. I hope that I am a realist.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder/Administrator, Unsolved Problems.

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 1, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2020:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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