[Ed. – Hint: Obama not in the running]
Who was the smartest person to ever live? There are certainly many worthy contenders. Today, the very name of “Einstein” is synonymous with genius. Others may suggest Stephen Hawking. Those who appreciate literature and music may proffer William Shakespeare or Ludwig van Beethoven. Historians may recommend Benjamin Franklin.
Before I submit my own suggestion, we must first discuss what we even mean by smart. Colloquially, we routinely interchange the words smart and intelligent, but they are not necessarily the same thing. There is an ongoing debate among psychologists, neuroscientists, and artificial intelligence experts on what intelligence actually is, but for our purposes here, a simple dictionary definition will suffice: “capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.”
Implicit in this definition of intelligence is general knowledge. An intelligent person capable of understanding quantum mechanics is useless to society if he is completely ignorant. So, a truly smart person will know a lot of things, preferably about many different topics. He should be a polymath, in other words.