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Mind Matters Reporting on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

Denyse O'Leary

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Neanderthal or Homo Sapiens Family Cooking Animal Meat over Bonfire and then Eating it. Tribe of Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers Wearing Animal Skins Eating in a Dark Scary Cave at Night

Did the Human Mind Originate in Telling Ourselves Stories?

A philosopher and writer tries to account for the jump from animal to human by wholly natural means
Philosopher Keith Frankish melds linguist Daniel Dor’s ideas with philosopher Daniel Dennett’s to come up with a revealingly circular theory. Read More ›
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Antibiotic resistant bacteria inside a biofilm, 3D illustration. Realistic scientific background

Do Bacteria Warn Others While Dying from Antibiotics?

Scientists are learning more about the complex ways bacteria overcome efforts to control them

That’s what we learn from a new open-access paper in Nature titled “Dead cells release a ‘necrosignal’ that activates antibiotic survival pathways in bacterial swarms.” It’s sometimes described as “screams,” but it’s actually a release of chemicals, which amounts to the same thing: a warning to prepare for an onslaught of antibiotics. The scientists also noted another curious factor: The cascade of genes turned on by necrosignals not only protected the surviving swarm from antibiotics, but promoted future resistance to the compounds that killed their comrades. What’s more, the scientists realized that subpopulations of swarm bacteria were genetically variable; some were more susceptible to the antibiotics than others. Swarms of bacteria may collectively cultivate different subpopulations as an evolutionary survival…

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Cat looks strange look in the night

Some Mysteries About Cats … Solved!

Pet dogs outnumber cats but they’ll never excel at creating the aura of mystery at which the cat effortlessly succeeds

Following up on the ways cats are intelligent, it might be fun to look at how humans got involved with them. It turns out that there are reasons why we have always found cats mysterious, compared to dogs. Why are people so fond of cats? There are lots of reasons but here’s an interesting find: Domestic cats’ meows for attention are said to be unique to their relationship with humans. Oxford neuroscientist Morten Kringelbach has found a way to map human responses via magnetoencephalograph (MEG) studies that measure electrical activity in our brains in real time. He found that the cry of a baby triggered a response in the orbitofrontal cortex before study subjects had identified the sound consciously. Adult…

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Cat and robotic vacuum cleaner in the room. Fluffy british shorthair cat is playing with a robotic vacuum.

In What Ways Are Cats Intelligent?

Cats have nearly twice as many neurons as dogs and a bigger and more complex cerebral cortex

It’s hard to come up with an interspecies IQ test. We live in a world where dogs are smarter than wolves in some ways but wolves are smarter than dogs in others. So much depends on what we want to measure. So let’s look at cats in relation to dogs because dogs have been studied so much more. Dogs are often seen as smarter than cats because they can do more jobs for humans. But humans bred dogs for millennia to do those very jobs. Cats have also made themselves useful to humans by killing pest rodents. But we best help the cat kill rodents just by getting out of his way. Thus, to assess cat intelligence vs. dog intelligence,…

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Jumping spider close up. Macro photography. Portrait of spider

In What Ways Are Spiders Intelligent?

The ability to perform simple cognitive functions does not appear to depend on the vertebrate brain as such

This year saw a huge uproar in science media over claims that prominent researcher of spider behavior Jonathan Pruitt, a behavioral ecologist currently at McMaster University in Canada, had fabricated evidence of complex, seemingly intelligent behavior in spiders. After many colleagues recently raised concerns in blogs and tweets that behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt had fabricated the data behind a slew of provocative results regarding animal personalities and social spiders, he denied the charges, saying any problems were inadvertent mistakes. Elizabeth Pennisi, “Embattled spider biologist seeks to delay additional retractions of problematic papers” at Science (March 12, 2020) Some of Pruitt’s data management mistakes seem rather curious: More than 20 scientists — co-authors, peers and other interested observers in the field…

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Antibiotic resistant bacteria inside a biofilm, 3D illustration. Biofilm is a community of bacteria where they aquire antibiotic resistance and communicate with each other by quorum sensing molecules

In What Ways Are Bacteria Intelligent?

As antibiotic resistance grows, researchers are discovering that these microbes are not just single, simple cells

Recently, Princeton University physicist Robert Austin challenged his graduate student Trung Phan to design a maze that he (Austin) couldn’t solve: Austin, Phan discovered, tended to retrace his steps when he encountered a dead end. So Tran decided on a maze without dead ends. The true purpose of the experiment, as Sophia Chen recounts at Wired, was to design a maze that bacteria can solve with remarkable skill based on their colony organization which, if you like, stands in for a brain: Curiously, bacteria—single-celled organisms that are among the simplest living things—are well known for working together, creating problem-solving units that are more than the sum of their parts. For example, to protect themselves from your immune system, the bacteria…

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Dog playing the shell game with her human. Concept of training pets, domestic dogs being smart and educated

In What Ways Are Dogs Intelligent?

There is no human counterpart to some types of dog intelligence

At Gizmodo recently, George Dvorsky adopted the useful, though somewhat unusual, strategy of determining dog intelligence by focusing on what dogs can’t do. He starts with the premise, as put by University of Exeter psychology professor (and dog expert) Stephen Lea, who says that domestication “has radically altered the intelligence of dogs.” Not so much raised or lowered it as changed its nature from the type of intelligence we would expect from a wolf: “Dogs are very good at what they’re bred to do — they’re excellent at doing those things, and in some cases even better than other species we think are intelligent, such as chimps and bonobos,” Zachary Silver, a PhD student from the Comparative Cognitive Lab at…

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Black Chimpanzee Mammal Ape

But, in the End, Did the Chimpanzee Really Talk?

A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine sheds light on the motivations behind the need to see bonobos as something like an oppressed people, rather than apes in need of protection

Recently, Michael Egnor commented on radical primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s effort to level the playing field between humans and bonobos by including the latter as authors of a research paper on animal welfare: “Non-human animals don’t have abstract knowledge-making and practices that would allow them to be meaningfully consulted. It is reality, not anthropocentric bias, that has left animals out of this decision-making process.” There is a larger and very interesting story around that paper, recently relayed at Smithsonian Magazine by Lindsay Stern (right), a PhD candidate in comparative literature at Yale and author of a novel, The Study of Animal Languages. Her article tells us a good deal about the motivations of those who, essentially, see bonobos not as apes…

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Würfel mit Hashtag-Symbol

Multiverse Physicist Max Tegmark Seeks AI That Checks News Bias

Naive people who truthfully claim to be acting only “for good” in trying to address bias in the news via AI are kidding themselves

Max Tegmark (right) is probably better known as a multiverse cosmologist than as an AI specialist. The MIT physics professor told New Scientist in 1998 that “All possible universes exist, even triangular ones.” He also informed Scientific American in 2003 that “Not just a staple of science fiction, other universes are a direct implication of cosmological observations”: Is there a copy of you reading this article? A person who is not you but who lives on a planet called Earth, with misty mountains, fertile fields and sprawling cities, in a solar system with eight other planets? The life of this person has been identical to yours in every respect. But perhaps he or she now decides to put down this…

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brown monkey macro photography

Do Animals Truly Grieve When Other Animals Die?

Yes, but “death” is, in some ways, an abstraction so there are only some things they understand about it

Anthropologist Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve (2014), has written a thought-provoking essay on the difficulties that COVID-19 has created for people coping with the death of a loved one because they are not allowed conventional grieving methods. Although it is titled “Animal Grief Shows We Aren’t Meant to Die Alone,” King’s essay turns out to be appropriately skeptical of ambitious claims about animal grief. She writes, There is a popular perception that some animals, particularly elephants and crows, participate in their own kinds of funerals. But there’s little solid evidence—at least, so far—for this kind of community ritual. Elephants may occasionally cover a dead companion’s body with leaves or branches, but the meaning and intent of this…

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Sad wife holding wedding ring on coronavirus confinement

Does COVID-19 Lead Women to Cheat?

The “subpersonal” approach to human psychology is popular but is it valid?

It's an open question whether the mind evolved at all and therefore whether evolutionary psychology is any help in understanding it.

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couple of two seniors or mature people walking in the airport going to their gate and take their flight wearing medical mask to prevent virus like coronavirus or covid-19 - carrying luggage or trolley

Ten Ways COVID-19 Will Change Your Next Air Trip

You’ll still get there but it definitely won’t be half the fun

On board, the plane will be cleaner but also leaner. Expect to wear a mask and snack before you go.

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Woman and man in social distancing sitting on bench

Five Surprising Changes To Watch for from COVID-19

Expect to hear much more about robots that can stand in for humans, as a way of enabling social distance

There are the Spanish police drones flying around, enforcing lockdown orders. And Singapore’s robotic police dogs, enforcing social distance. Will they go away?

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People on railway station and man in face mask using on phone while epidemic and covid19. Coronavirus and travel and public transport.

Top Consumer Trends COVID-19 Will Change Long Term

Data from 40 countries suggests that, post-COVID, people will continue to stick close to home

According to analysts, robotic devices are becoming more popular for a reason few would have guessed earlier; they reduce the need for physical human contact. Recycling, however, has taken a hit and weaning consumers from disposables post-COVID may prove a challenge. Huge firms are riding the storm, however, and Gen Z is spending the lockdown improving its career chances. Meanwhile, consumers surveyed around the globe say they plan to travel less.

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Mother and child doing homeschooling, e-learning at home because of the corona virus pandemic covid-19 quarantine

Five Ways COVID-19 Is Changing Education for Good

Parents, students, and teachers worldwide have been finding ways to use the internet in creative ways they would never have considered before

Recently, a Harvard prof chose to launch an attack on homeschoolers, portraying them as driven by narrow religious concerns. Given how many parents COVID-19 has forced to homeschool, the attack was, at best, poorly timed. But it usefully focused attention on the ways education needs to change in an online world.
 

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Post-COVID: Five Ways Your Job Could Change

This is a good time to be a creative thinker and innovator.

Many COVID-driven innovations will likely endure, whether it’s vets doing telehealth, trolls harassing Zoom users, or cybercriminals targeting remote workers, the new opportunities and risks will stay with us.

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Man teleworking from home after coronavirus pandemic

Five Possibly Unexpected Ways the Post-COVID Office Will Change

We’ll all know more about remote working than we ever thought we would

Some managers worry that remote employees will not be productive. They don’t always consider that the remote worker is the person in charge if something affects her work. For example, in an office building, if the water is shut off due to a street repair, a manager would likely co-ordinate. But at home, the worker must decide for herself how best to deal with it, while remaining productive. A level playing field would recognize overall long-term output vs. costs in either case.

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Open and closed.

Is There Really a “Rubber Hand” Illusion?

A venerable claim in psychology, that our minds are easily fooled about our bodies, comes under fire
It sounds as though too many people know too much about what to expect for any raw data about human cognition to be recovered from the Rubber Hand illusion. Read More ›
Digital Brain

Are We Doomed Unless We Get Ourselves Digitized?

A tech writer suggests humans can escape Earth’s end by digitizing ourselves elsewhere in the galaxy

Today’s apocalyptic vision seems now to have moved on from the arrival of the extraterrestrials to uploading ourselves to a supercomputer. Whether it’s possible is really secondary. The main question is whether it answers a cultural need for a vision that mirrors the inner turmoil of the day.

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Joyful happy boy hugging a robot

Can Robots Be Programmed To Care About Us?

Some researchers think it is only a matter of the right tweaks

The quest is a curious blend of forlorn hope fueled by half-acknowledged hype and resolute denial of the most serious problems. Also by sometimes systematic confusion as to what, precisely, we are talking about.

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