Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryNatural Intelligence

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Working Data Center Full of Rack Servers and Supercomputers, Modern Telecommunications, Artificial Intelligence, Supercomputer Technology Concept.3d rendering,conceptual image.

Engineer: Failing To See His AI Program as a Person Is “Bigotry”

It’s not different, Lemoine implies, from the historical injustice of denying civil rights to human groups

Earlier this month, just in time for the release of Robert J. Marks’s book Non-Computable You, the story broke that, after investigation, Google dismissed a software engineer’s claim that the LaMDA AI chatbot really talked to him. Engineer Blake Lemoine, currently on leave, is now accusing Google of “bigotry” against the program. He has also accused Wired of misrepresenting the story. Wired reported that he had found an attorney for LaMDA but he claims that LaMDA itself asked him to find an attorney. He went on to say, I think every person is entitled to representation. And I’d like to highlight something. The entire argument that goes, “It sounds like a person but it’s not a real person” has been…

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Laboratory mouse in the experiment test.

Researchers: Our Brains Use Data Compression To Get Things Right

A recent experiment with mice showed data compression at work when the mice were making decisions about how to get a reward

We are used to thinking of data compression in connection with computers but a recent study with mice shows that brains compress data too. The researchers ask us to imagine a dilemma from anearly video game: If you were a kid in the 80s, or are a fan of retro video games, then you must know Frogger. The game can be quite a challenge. To win, you must first survive a stream of heavy traffic, only to then narrowly escape oblivion by zig-zagging across speeding wooden logs. How does the brain know what to focus on within all this mess? Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, “The brain applies data compression for decision-making” at Eurekalert (June 6, 2022) Driving in snarled,…

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leafcutter ants

The Hive Mind: Leafcutter Ants Behave Like Farmhands But…

But they are actually following a colony algorithm rather than making individual decisions

Eric Cassell, author of Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021), tells us that his favorite type of ant (p. 97) is the leafcutter (Attini). Its complex fungus farming provides insight into the “hive mind,” in which a natural version of a computer algorithm enables highly complex decision-making. There are 39 known species of leafcutters in the American tropics, easily recognized as the long trails (up to 30 metres) of ants, all carrying pieces of leaves they have stripped from trees. They bring them into underground nests featuring perhaps a thousand chambers housing millions of ants. There they chew up the leaves and cultivate the fungus that feeds their larvae and themselves (along with plant sap).…

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funny boy and beagle dog are watching laptop on sofa in room

AI expert: Stop Distinguishing Between AI, Human and Animal Minds

Aaron Sloman’s approach to minds sounds a bit like panpsychism — which is increasingly accepted in science — but there are differences

Philip Ball, author of The Book of Minds: How to understand ourselves and other beings, from animals to AI to aliens (University of Chicago Press, 2022), profiles University of Birmingham computer scientist Aaron Sloman, whose 1984 paper, “The structure of the space of possible minds” sought to account for human, animal, and AI minds as “behaving systems.” Along the way, Sloman came to a significant conclusion: “We must abandon the idea that there is one major boundary between things with and without minds,” he wrote. “Instead, informed by the variety of types of computational mechanisms already explored, we must acknowledge that there are many discontinuities, or divisions within the space of possible systems: the space is not a continuum, nor…

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Fresh raw lobster

Asked at “The Scientist”: Do Invertebrates Have Feelings?

Just as vertebrates differ greatly in intelligence and sentience, invertebrates may differ greatly too. The seafood industry is taking heed.

People did not ask this question about invertebrates like bees and snails fifty years ago: Decades ago, scientists and lawmakers had all but reached a consensus that invertebrates could not feel pain, let alone other emotions like joy or fear. Recently, however, evidence is mounting that invertebrates are more than just reflexive beings. Experiments in bees, crabs, and octopuses show that some invertebrate animals can learn from painful experiences, have positive and negative emotion-like states, and might even experience a range of other emotions beyond pain and pleasure. But not all scientists agree that invertebrates feel anything analogous to vertebrate—much less human—emotion. Natalie Mesa, “Do Invertebrates Have Emotions?” at The Scientist (May 26, 2022) Assessing the evidence is tricky. In…

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ants building a bridge

Do Ants Think? Yes, They Do — But They Think Like Computers

Computer programmers have adapted some ant problem-solving methods to software programs (but without the need for complex chemical scents)

Navigation expert Eric Cassell, author of Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021), offers some insights in the book into how ants organize themselves using what amount to algorithms, without any central command: Ants are remarkably consistent in their lifestyle: All of the roughly 11,000 species of ants live in groups, large or small. There are no known solitary ants. Living in groups, they have developed a social lifestyle that includes “agriculture, territorial wars, slavery, division of labor, castes, consensus building, cities, and a symbolic language.” (p. 85) How is this managed by ants with very small brains (200,000 to 250,000 neurons) and very limited individuality? For comparison, among mammals, the agouti has roughly 857 million…

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dolphin underwater on reef close up look

The Remarkable Medicines Wild Animals Find in Nature

The “animals’ pharmacy” mainly aims at treating parasites and wounds using plants and insects

It turns out that many animals know how to alleviate some of their common health problems and we are only beginning to (officially) learn about it. Dolphins, for example: Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins get skin conditions, too, but they come about their medication by queuing up nose-to-tail to rub themselves against corals. In the journal iScience on May 19, researchers show that these corals have medicinal properties, suggesting that the dolphins are using the marine invertebrates to medicate skin conditions. Thirteen years ago, co-lead author Angela Ziltener (@DWAORG), a wildlife biologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, first observed dolphins rubbing against coral in the Northern Red Sea, off the coast of Egypt. She and her team noticed that the dolphins…

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Two cats hide under the blanket. Outside, the winter snow. The concept of home comfort, security, warmth

Why Cats Can Remember Other Cats’ Names

University of Kyoto scientists found that they can indeed remember, provided they live in the same household

In a study of 48 cats living in private homes and pet cafés, scientists at Kyoto University in Japan determined that they can recognize the names humans give to them if they live in the same household: The scientists showed pet cats living in homes and felines living in “cat cafés” photos of cats they resided with to determine their reactions. The cats were then played an audio recording of their owners, or a researcher, calling out a name — either the name of the familiar cat in the photo or a fake name. Researchers discovered that pet cats spent more time looking at the image when the audio incorrectly identified a familiar cat than when the correct name was…

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scuba diving octopus lembeh strait indonesia underwater

Can Largely Rearranged Genomes Explain Why Octopuses Are Smart?

Even compared to each other, the genomes of three cephalopods studied had been broken up and extensively reorganized

Octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish are among the smartest invertebrates, rivalling mammals for complex behavior that can include delaying gratification, having good memories (even in old age), and getting emotional about pain. Yet they are related to life forms like the nautilus which displays few such qualities. Looking to solve the mystery, researchers began to examine the genomes of the two-spot octopus, the Boston Market squid, and the Hawaiian bobtail squid. And that’s where they discovered something interesting. Squid genomes were arranged differently from those of similar life forms.: Compared to genomes from some of their mollusk kin, the coleoid cephalopods’ genomes are very divergent, says [Oleg] Simakov. “You have this mosaic of chromosomes, where ancestral chromosomes were broken up and…

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flock of bees flying near the beehive

Claim: Honeybees, “Like Humans” Can Tell Odd vs. Even Numbers

Ants, fruit flies, and even plants can also calculate but it does not follow that they are conscious of what they are doing

Recently, researchers, using sugar water, taught honeybees to distinguish odd from even numbers: Our results showed the miniature brains of honeybees were able to understand the concepts of odd and even. So a large and complex human brain consisting of 86 billion neurons, and a miniature insect brain with about 960,000 neurons, could both categorize numbers by parity. Scarlett Howard, Adrian Dyer, Andrew Greentree and Jair Garcia, “Honeybees join humans as the only known animals that can tell the difference between odd and even numbers” at Phys.org (April 29, 2022) The paper is open access. That should, of course, be a hint that bees are probably using a much less complex process than humans. Bees would be useful for this…

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Claim: Research Shows That Animals Have a Moral Sense

We are informed at Nautilus, the Templeton Foundation’s magazine, that “ It’s time to take moral emotion in animals seriously.” Really?

Philosopher James Hutton starts out his article as a sort of a “trick.” He describes the animals he works with as if they were colleagues. Then, in paragraph four, he announces, “But there are a couple of important details about Amy and Sidney that you should know. The first is that they aren’t workers in any conventional sense, but participants in an experiment.” Coming to the point, they’re dogs. And anyone who had been reading carefully would realize that they were animals, probably dogs or horses. But now here is the supposed big revelation from the University of Vienna experiments Hutton describes: The first big idea is that the moral attitudes of human beings are thoroughly emotional in nature. Of…

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Beautiful autumn tree with mushrooms and moss in forest

Not Just Plants — Even Fungi Like Mushrooms — Talk To Each Other?

They are NOT judging us but they do have complex communications systems interacting with their environment

The patterns that fungi like mushrooms use to communicate are said to be “strikingly similar” to those of human speech. But how?: Fungi send electrical signals to one another through hyphae—long, filamentous tendrils that the organisms use to grow and explore. The Guardian reports that previous research shows that the number of electrical impulses traveling through hyphae, sometimes likened to neurons, increases when fungi encounter new sources of food, and that this suggests it’s possible that fungi use this “language” to let each other know about new food sources or injury. Natalia Mesa, “Can Mushrooms “Talk” to Each Other?” at The Scientist (April 6, 2022) The paper is open access. That would make fungi, one of the kingdoms of life,…

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Sensitive plant or mimosa pudica plant.

How Plants Talk When We’re Not Around

Some aspects of plant behavior can be studied in the same terms as animal or human behavior

One genuine surprise in recent decades has been the discovery that plants have nervous systems like animals and use some of the same compounds in communications — for example, TMAO to relieve stress and glutamate to speed transmission. Biologist Peter Rogers pointed out recently that the similarities may shed a bit of light on issues around anaesthesia. Surprisingly, it is possible to anesthetize a plant. The shameplant (Mimosa pudica) and the Venus flytrap demonstrated that: Thirty years after anesthesia debuted in the operating room, Claude Bernard, a French physiologist, demonstrated that the shameplant (Mimosa pudica), which bashfully folds into itself when touched, was unresponsive to touch after exposure to ether, a commonly used anesthetic. The plant also folds into itself…

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Super macro shot tiny fruit flies on the top of a banana

The Brain Unfolds Like a Drama, With Neurons in Different Roles

Researchers studying fruit flies hope that spotting the stages at which human neurons go missing or wrong can help develop treatments to insert or replace them

We are not accustomed to thinking of fruit flies as even having brains. But they have 120 types of neurons in their visual system alone (which could be why they are so pesky): In the research published in Nature, the researchers studied the brains of the fruit fly Drosophila to uncover the complete set of tTFs needed to generate the roughly 120 neuron types of the medulla, a specific brain structure in the visual system of flies. They used state-of-the-art single-cell mRNA sequencing to obtain the transcriptome — all of the genes expressed in a given cell — of more than 50,000 individual cells that were then grouped into most of the cell types present in the developing medulla… The…

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Common Earthworm (Lumbricus Terrestris)

Evolutionary Psychologist Argues That Worms Feel Pain. But How?

Wait. Barash’s hypothesis overlooks the fact that suffering is more than an alarm system. An alarm could be going off in an empty building

A web site for fans of earthworms tackled the question recently: Yes, it is now accepted that worms feel pain – and that includes when they are cut in half. They do not anticipate pain or feel pain as an emotional response, however. They simply move in response to pain as a reflex response. They may curl up or move away, for example, from painful or negative stimuli. Aimen Mirza, “Do worms feel pain? (Can Earthworms Sense Painful Stimuli?)” at WORMMY (October 12, 2021) Possibly in line with the growing support for panpsychism in science, University of Washington evolutionary psychology professor David P. Barash, asks us to consider that worms do indeed feel pain in a deeper sense than an…

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Two stingrays are swimming on the blue sea near the underwater rocks and white sand.

Did Researchers Teach Fish To “Do Math”?

Some test fish learned how to how to get food pellets but the difficulty, as so often, lies with interpretation

University of Bonn researchers think that they may have taught fish to count. They tested the fact that many life forms can note the difference in small quantities between “one more” and “one less,” at least up to five items. Not much work had been done on fish in this area so they decided to test eight freshwater stingrays and eight cichlids: All of the fish were taught to recognize blue as corresponding to “more” and yellow to “less.” The fish or stingrays entered an experimental arena where they saw a test stimulus: a card showing a set of geometric shapes (square, circle, triangle) in either yellow or blue. In a separate compartment of the tank, the fish were then…

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crab on beach

Researchers Ask—Serious Question — Do Crabs Have Emotions?

Recent research has created some unexpected ethical problems for the seafood industry

At one time, the question of whether crabs or squid had emotions would seem ridiculous. Dogs and cats have emotions but squid and crabs don’t. Right? But in recent decades, it has become evident that there is no straightforward evolutionary path to “smartness.” What about the ability to experience pain or emotion as a dog or cat would? “A London School of Economics (LSE) report commissioned by the U.K. government found there is strong enough evidence to conclude that decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs are sentient,” says York University Professor and philosopher Kristin Andrews, the York Research Chair in Animal Minds, who is working with the LSE team. Andrews co-wrote an article published today in the journal Science, “The question…

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Iguana and Blue and Gold Macaw

Are Birds Really Smarter Than Reptiles?

Scientists clash over how to measure animal intelligence: brain volume, brain organization, numbers of neurons…?

It used to be: Dog vs. cat, Who’s smarter? Now it’s Bird vs. reptile: Who’s smarter? Experts on the fascinating world of animal intelligence are locked in a debate over whether number of neurons or brain volume indicates intelligence (cognitive capacity): In previous work, [Pavel] Němec and colleagues showed that birds have high neuronal densities. “They basically compensate, with these densely packed neurons, [for] the fact that they have relatively small brains in absolute terms, but they have just as many neurons as mammals,” he says. But they didn’t know whether that was true of reptiles as well. In the new study, the researchers found that reptiles have very low neuronal densities, with an average neuron number 20 times lower…

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Extreme magnification - Jumping spider portrait, front view

Spiders Are Smart; Be Glad They Are Small

Recent research has shed light on the intriguing strategies that spiders use to deceive other spiders — and prey in general

Spiders, like octopuses, have eight legs. But they share something else as well — like octopuses, once we got around to studying them, they turned out to be much smarter than expected. What makes spiders even more unusual is that they are smart with very small brains: “There is this general idea that probably spiders are too small, that you need some kind of a critical mass of brain tissue to be able to perform complex behaviors,” says arachnologist and evolutionary biologist Dimitar Dimitrov of the University Museum of Bergen in Norway. “But I think spiders are one case where this general idea is challenged. Some small things are actually capable of doing very complex stuff.” Behaviors that can be…