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Mind Matters Reporting on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

CategoryNatural Intelligence

Head shot close up portrait of red-and-green macaw in zoo

Polly Want a … Statistician?

Ethology, the science of animal behavior, offers interesting data but the interpretations are too often witless

Can birds really do statistics? A reporter writing up the results of a study for a popular science magazine seems to think so. The researchers are (appropriately) more cautious. But what are the issues here?

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Choose your way

How Did “Wanting” Things Emerge?

Agency (“wanting” or “deciding” things) is as hard a problem in physics as consciousness

Rocks don’t resist becoming sand but plants resist, by various strategies, becoming insect food. All life forms seem to need and want things; the most intelligent ones want more complex and less obviously necessary things. At New Scientist, we are told that wanting things is a “superpower” that physics can’t explain. But are we asking the wrong questions?

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The concept of rational and irrational thinking of two people. Heads of two people with colourful shapes of abstract brain for concept of idea and teamwork. Two people with different thinking.

We Will Never “Solve” the Brain

A science historian offers a look at some of the difficulties we face in understanding the brain

In a forthcoming book, science historian Matthew Cobb suggests that we may need to be content with different explanations for different brain parts. And that the image of the brain as a computer is definitely on the way out.

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virtual-reality-AdobeStock_201971753

Is Transhumanism Uncomfortably Tempting?

An ethicist asks us to stop and reflect

Jacob Schatzer identifies three issues in the essay, “The Allure of Transhumanism,” that might prompt some queasy recognitions in all of us, at times.

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Young birch with black and white birch bark in spring in birch grove against the background of other birches

Researchers: Trees “sense” their height and weight

We have only recently discovered how complex plant communications are

Trees rarely just fall over but we seldom stop to think about why they don’t. Manipulating the weight of downy birch trees, the team discovered that a tree can adjust its stem thickening in relation to its height, especially if the stem is free to move a bit. They were able to test this thesis by studying a mutant tree that sadly lacks that ability.

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Superintelligent AI Is Still a Myth

Neither the old classical approaches nor the new data scientific angle can make any headway on good ol’ common sense

The official Winograd Schema Challenge, organized by Levesque and friends to see if AI could learn common sense, was retired officially in 2016 for the embarrassing reason that even the well-funded bleeding age Google Brain team performed poorly on a test set of a few hundred questions.

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Man caressing a tame black fox

Tame Animals, Not Wild Ones, Are Mysterious

A recent discovery about tame foxes sheds some light but deepens the larger mystery

New research puts us back where we started. The foxes are tame. But why are they tame? Other foxes are decidedly not tame. Why is it so easy to “tame” dogs and cats but not wolves and bobcats? 

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old tree roots in a green forest

New Research Suggests That Plants Can “Think”

But what does that mean? Clearly not what some people expect

From time immemorial, we have endowed what we find in nature with our own characteristics. That is called mythology. The people who think that salad is murder or beg plants to forgive their sins are not helping the environment; they are incorporating a mythology into their lives

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Gorgeous puppy looking on itself in the mirror

Mirror, Mirror, Am I a Self?

Scientists ponder, how would animals show self-awareness?

One controversy in animal psychology centers on whether or not an animal can recognize itself in a mirror. But a number of scientists are beginning to doubt that the mirror test shows animal self-awareness.

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Slime molds

Is a Brain Really Needed for Thinking?

The “blob,” now on display at the Paris Zoo, forces the question

In addition to the many puzzles we face in understanding the relationship between the immaterial human mind and the material human brain, we are discovering some life forms that can manage “sensory integration, decision-making and now, learning” without a physical brain.

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Dolphin portrait while looking at you with open mouth

What Do Animal Studies Tell Us About Human Minds?

They show that human experience is unique

Many people assume that human consciousness arose accidentally many eons ago from animal consciousness and that therefore we can find glimmers of the same sort of consciousness in the minds of animals. But that approach isn’t producing the expected results.

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Reading with a kitten in his arms, filming indoors

Cats do bond with people

Both cats and kittens showed about the same level of attachment to caregivers as children and dogs did

When a cat feels secure, he develops relationships with humans and dogs. But he won’t be either your servant or your master; just your housemate—and maybe at last your old friend.

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Machine vision Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash SrC5iuVJk_c

What You See That the Machine Doesn’t

You see the “skeleton” of an idea
Humans can intuit the underlying forms that govern shapes, in part by guessing the intentions of other humans. Machine vision does not intuit things, which may be one reason for its odd misidentifications. Read More ›
The car made of grass.

Can We “Evolve” Self-Driving Cars?

The new method may be an advance but thinking of it as "evolution" at work risks misconceptions

In evolution, “performance” just means the continued survival of a lineage. Thus it can include hybrids between what you might want for your purposes and what you don’t want.

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Resting at office

If AI dumbed us down, would we even know?

Silicon Valley pros face the challenges head-on
Does the constant use of machine aids rob us of natural smarts? If not, how are they helping us? Are there ways we can change the mix? Read More ›
Bottlenose Dolphin NASA public domain

Dolphinese: The Idea That Animals Think As We Do Dies Hard

But first it can lead us down strange paths
Down one of them, some researchers met a dolphin. Unfortunately for the dolphin. Read More ›
Herd of African elephants in National Park, Uganda

Elephants Who Fly — or Become “Persons” — Are Magic

Okay, it's impossible. But then why do thinkers who disbelieve the one believe the other?

For decades, researchers were transfixed with the idea of humanizing great apes by raising them among humans and teaching them language. Emerging from the ruins and recriminations of the collapse, philosophy prof Don Ross has a new idea: Let’s start with elephants instead.

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Monkey family on the tree in Nepal monastery

Are Monkeys with Some Human Genes Partly Human?

If they are somewhat smarter than other macaques, do they have minds and souls?

In my ongoing dialogue with Querius, I say no; a human is not reducible to a handful of genes.

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chimpanzee family

Human-Ape Similarity Shows Humans Are Exceptional

If man is an animal biologically, but so unlike an animal cognitively, the obvious implication is that some aspect of the human mind is not biological

Ironically, if humans and apes were biologically more different, materialists could claim that the material biological differences rather than immaterial spiritual differences account for our powers of abstract thought. The biological similarity precludes such an argument.

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Hand above a red emergency button

Why an AI pioneer thinks Watson is a “fraud”

The famous Jeopardy contest in 2011 worked around the fact that Watson could not grasp the meaning of anything

Gary N. Smith explains that a computer’s inability to understand what “it” means in a sentence is because it doesn’t understand what any of the words in the sentence mean.

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