Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryNatural Intelligence

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Joke

Why Animals Can Count But Can’t Do Math

A numerical cognition researcher outlines the differences between recognizing numbers and doing math

At The Conversation, psychology professor Silke Goebel offers some perspective on the differences between the way animals and small children process numbers and the way adults do. As a researcher in numerical cognition, she tries to focus on how brains process numbers. Her research shows that Humans and animals actually share some remarkable numerical abilities – helping them make smart decisions about where to feed and where to take shelter. But as soon as language enters the picture, humans begin outperforming animals, revealing how words and digits underpin our advanced mathematical world. Silke Goebel, “Why animals recognise numbers but only humans can do maths” at The Conversation (July 28, 2021) Essentially, she says, there are two different types of counting…

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parrot

Do Birds Really Understand What They Are Saying?

Remarkable claims are made for some birds

Perhaps because parrots can carefully mimic human voices (and many other sounds), many claims are made for their intelligence For example, that they understand abstractions like currency: After training eight African grey parrots and six blue-headed macaws to barter metal rings for walnuts, the researchers paired the birds up with same-species partners. They then put the parrots in clear chambers joined by a transfer hole, and gave one bird—the donor—ten rings, while the other was left with none. Even without the promise of a reward for themselves, seven out of eight of the African grey parrot donors passed some of their available tokens through the transfer hole to their broke partners, usually shuttling them beak to beak. On average, about…

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Grey wolf in the forest

Why Do Dogs Understand People Better Than Wolves?

The difference in attitude to humans between dog pups and wolf pups was dramatically demonstrated in a recent study

Some enterprising researchers at Duke University decided to compare 44 dog pups with 37 wolf pups, between 5 and 18 weeks of age. Would the wolf pups behave the same way toward humans as the dog pups or differently? While the wolf pups got a lot of human interaction, including hand-feeding, sleeping in their caretakers’ beds and almost round-the-clock human care, the dog puppies lived mostly with their mothers and littermates. They had little human contact. Researchers hid treats in one of two bowls, then gave the dog or wolf a clue to find the food. Sometimes that included pointing and gazing in the direction where the food could be found. Even with no training, dogs as young as 8…

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The Earth from space. This image elements furnished by NASA.

Cornell: Earth Could Be Seen by ET Far More Easily Than Thought

Using analytic software, researchers can determine whether Earth would be visible from a given star system

According to Cornell and American Museum of Natural History researchers, “Scientists have identified 2,034 nearby star-systems — within the small cosmic distance of 326 light-years — that could find Earth merely by watching our pale blue dot cross our sun”: Scientists at Cornell University and the American Museum of Natural History have identified 2,034 nearby star-systems — within the small cosmic distance of 326 light-years — that could find Earth merely by watching our pale blue dot cross our sun. That’s 1,715 star-systems that could have spotted Earth since human civilization blossomed about 5,000 years ago, and 319 more star-systems that will be added over the next 5,000 years. Exoplanets around these nearby stars have a cosmic front-row seat to…

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Frightened guilty dog pug looking sad at camera.

Is Fear the Same Thing for a Human Being as for an Animal?

Psychiatrist Joseph Ledoux has thought about that; it’s a complex problem

Recently, we looked at consciousness from the perspective of Joseph LeDoux’s recent book, A Deep History of Ourselves (1919). Psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett situates his work at Nature, offering an interesting qualification: LeDoux, an academic at New York University in New York City, is best known for his research on fear, and for carefully mapping the brain circuit centred on the amygdala — a knot of neurons in the medial temporal lobe. The amygdala, he showed, has a crucial role in non-conscious, defensive behaviour responses such as freezing or fleeing. His conclusion, based on the assumption that all mammalian amygdala circuits are structurally similar, was that all mammals (including humans) share these responses. He described this work in The Emotional…

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close up photo of green leafed plant

If You Do Something to a Plant, Will It Remember?

Depends. Plants turn out to be more and more like animals. NOT like people but like animals

Plants, we are learning, have internal means of remembering and keeping track of things: In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers from Nara Institute of Science and Technology have revealed that a family of proteins that control small heat shock genes enables plants to ‘remember’ how to deal with heat stress… “Heat stress is often repeating and changing,” says lead author of the study Nobutoshi Yamaguchi. “Once plants have undergone mild heat stress, they become tolerant and can adapt to further heat stress. This is referred to as heat stress ‘memory’ and has been reported to be correlated to epigenetic modifications.” Epigenetic modifications are inheritable changes in the way genes are expressed, and do not involve changes in the…

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Robotic man cyborg face representing artificial intelligence 3D rendering

How To Flummox an AI Neural Network

Kids can figure out the same-different distinction. So can ducklings and bees. But top AI can't.

Science writer John Pavlus identifies a key limitation of artificial intelligence: The first episode of Sesame Street in 1969 included a segment called “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.” Viewers were asked to consider a poster that displayed three 2s and one W, and to decide — while singing along to the game’s eponymous jingle — which symbol didn’t belong. Dozens of episodes of Sesame Street repeated the game, comparing everything from abstract patterns to plates of vegetables. Kids never had to relearn the rules. Understanding the distinction between “same” and “different” was enough. Machines have a much harder time. One of the most powerful classes of artificial intelligence systems, known as convolutional neural networks or CNNs,…

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Live lobster in the aquarium. Product in the supermarket. Close up photo of big lobsters in water tank for sale

Can Crabs Think? Can Lobsters Feel? What We Know Now

In Switzerland, it is now illegal to boil a lobster alive. Are the Swiss right? Is it cruel?

Because crustaceans have shells, we may tend to think of them as like machines. Yet crustaceans, along with octopuses, show some surprising abilities and complexities. Take crabs, for example: A new Swansea University study has revealed how common shore crabs can navigate their way around a complex maze and can even remember the route in order to find food … Spatial learning is quite complicated, so figuring out how it works in crustaceans gives us a better understanding of how widespread this ability, and learning in general, is in the animal kingdom.” The researchers tested 12 crabs over four weeks, placing food at the end of the maze each time. The route to the end of the maze required five…

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Octopus

Octopuses Get Emotional About Pain, Research Suggests

The smartest of invertebrates, the octopus, once again prompts us to rethink what we believe to be the origin of intelligence

The octopus is becoming a popular creature among neuroscientists. It is a very smart invertebrate with an unusually complex nervous system, organized in a fundamentally different way from that of, for example, mammals. Recently, a researcher has found the first strong evidence that octopuses feel pain, as opposed to merely reacting to it. There are two parts to pain: The natural physical reaction, like a sophisticated alarm system, sets off a chain of involuntary responses. But that chain of responses, by itself, doesn’t prove that any “self” is feeling anything. The alarm system would work just the same in an empty building as in a populated one. The second component can be called “emotional.” The life form experiences the pain…

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dachsund dog portrait studio looking up.

Do Any Dogs Go To Heaven? If So, Why?

Neuroscientist Christof Koch was troubled as a child by the Catholic tradition that dogs like his beloved Purzel did not go to heaven

In recent articles, we’ve discussed well-known neuroscientist Christof Koch’s Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of consciousness which, as he acknowledges, takes a panpsychist (everything is conscious to some degree) approach to the mind. He has explained his reasoning at MIT Press Reader: Materialists must see human consciousness as an illusion — but then whose illusion is it? Panpsychism allows humans to have actual consciousness but, he says, “experience may not even be restricted to biological entities but might extend to non-evolved physical systems previously assumed to be mindless — a pleasing and parsimonious conclusion about the makeup of the universe.” His perspective is gaining popularity in science. One, perhaps unexpected, factor that he mentions as shaping his overall approach was youthful…

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dolphins with a ball

Can AI “Translate” Animal Languages Into Human Languages?

If we understood animal communications better, would they even seem like a language?

That’s the question science writer Philip Ball, author of The Modern Myths: Adventures in the machinery of the popular imagination (2021), posed recently at The New Yorker. If a dolphin could talk, could we really understand its very different life experiences? Ball reports that some researchers are trying to translate dolphin communications (“dolphish”) into English: Today, animal-translation technologies are being developed that use the same “machine learning” approach that is applied to human languages in services such as Google Translate. These systems use neural networks to analyze vast numbers of example sentences, inferring from them general principles of grammar and usage, and then apply those patterns in order to translate sentences the system has never seen. Denise Herzing, the founder…

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Robot Playing Chess

Chicken Little AI Dystopians: Is the Sky Really Falling?

Futurist claims about human-destroying superintelligence are uninformed and irresponsible

The article “How an Artificial Superintelligence Might Actually Destroy Humanity” is one of the most irresponsible pieces about AI I have read in the last five years. The author, transhumanist George Dvorsky, builds his argument on a foundation of easily popped balloons. AI is and will remain a tool. Computers can crunch numbers faster than you or me. Alexa saves a lot of time looking up results on the web or playing a selected tune from Spotify. A car – even a bicycle – can go a lot faster than I can run. AI is a tool like fire or electricity used to enhance human performance and improve lifestyles. Like fire and electricity, AI can be used for evil or…

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Human brain model for education in laboratory.

Intelligence: A Thousand Brains — or a Thousand Theories?

What does the iconic mammalian neocortex do that equivalent systems in birds and octopuses can’t do? That’s not clear

Jeff Hawkins, inventor of PalmPilot (a smartphone predecessor) and co-founder of Numenta (2005), does not lack confidence. After an interview with him in connection with his new book, A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence (Basic Books 2021), Will Douglas Heaven tells us at MIT Review, “Neuroscientist and tech entrepreneur Jeff Hawkins claims he’s figured out how intelligence works—and he wants every AI lab in the world to know about it”: He’s not the first Silicon Valley entrepreneur to think he has all the answers—and not everyone is likely to agree with his conclusions. But his ideas could shake up AI. Will Douglas Heaven, ““We’ll never have true AI without first understanding the brain”” at MIT Technology Review (March…

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3D rendering of a conceptual images of office cubicles where workers where replaced by artificial intelligence.

Will AI Ever Replace Human Beings? Why Do You Ask?

A better question might be: Why do we want to know the future of artificial intelligence?
The question of whether a machine can ever fully replace a human can only have one, predefined answer. My question is, why bother asking the question? You already know the only answer you will accept! Read More ›
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Phrenology Head

Phrenology: The Pseudoscience That Just Won’t Give Up

Are we arguing about this AGAIN?

Phrenology is the detailed study of cranial sizes and shapes as a proxy for brain size and shape. Practitioners believed themselves to be able to use this information as an indicator of both the character and the mental abilities of the person whose brain was being investigated. Phrenology has been widely discredited, and is thought by many today to be pseudoscience. However, the vestiges of phrenology remain with us today, and are still used to justify various common beliefs and inferences, even by otherwise very educated people. The most common way that this happens is the use of brain size in the evaluation of the character of human evolution. It is often supposed by researchers that brain size can be…

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model biological micro organism paramecium caudatum 3d illustration

Scientists Try To Understand How One-Celled Life Forms Learn

Artificial intelligence may offer a model for learning without a brain

According to a recent article in The Scientist, in the mid-twentieth century, several labs produced results that suggested that one-celled organisms could learn, in the sense that they could alter future behavior based on past experience. At the time, such findings were dismissed as flukes or mistakes because it was unclear how a unicellular life form like paramecium, with no brain or nervous system, could store memories. Today, a team from Harvard, Rutgers, and MIT is taking a second look at the findings of learning in paramecium: We exhume the experiments of Beatrice Gelber on Pavlovian conditioning in the ciliate Paramecium aurelia, and suggest that criticisms of her findings can now be reinterpreted. Gelber was a remarkable scientist whose absence…

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Nairobi, Kenya : Ranger feeding orphaned baby elephant in David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust conservation center

There Is No Escape From Human Exceptionalism

Author Melanie Challenger thinks we should embrace our true animal nature. But that’s impossible

Melanie Challenger, author of How to Be Animal (2021) thinks we would be less messed up if we could just accept our animal nature. She writes at Aeon, “Human exceptionalism is dead: for the sake of our own happiness and the planet we should embrace our true animal nature.” Further, Today, our thinking has shifted along with scientific evidence, incorporating the genetic insights of the past century. We now know we’re animals, related to all other life on our planet. We’ve also learned much about cognition, including the uneasy separation between instinct and intention, and the investment of the whole body in thought and action. As such, we might expect attitudes to have changed. But that isn’t the case. We…

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American staffordshire terrier dog with little kitten

Researchers Ponder Why Animals Adopt Other Species’ Orphans

Beliefs about what animals “should do” are often hampered by a lack of common sense reasoning and an outdated evolution theory

At The Conversation, evolutionary anthropologist Isabelle Catherine Winder (pictured) and anatomist Vivien Shaw pose a question, “Animal adoptions make no evolutionary sense, so why do they happen?“ For instance, scientists working with gorillas in Rwanda recently found the gorillas band together to take care of orphans. In these cases, young peers and (surprisingly) dominant adult males can be key to immature orphans’ survival. Perhaps it really does take a village to raise a child. Meanwhile researchers in DR Congo found that bonobos (apes closely related to chimpanzees) go even further, and sometimes adopt babies from a different social group. We even have examples of cross-species adoption, such as the dolphin who adopted and nursed a melon-headed whale, and a group…

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Ancient Forest, Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park

Plants Help Each Other. Are They Self-Aware? Can They Suffer?

Recent discoveries that plants can do many things that we used to think only animals could do raise some interesting questions

In recent decades, we have learned that plants are much more like animals in their use of information than earlier thought. They have nervous systems that use glutamate to speed transmission, as mammals do. And seeking to thrive and grow, they communicate extensively. Recently, environmental journalist Richard Schiffman interviewed forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, author of the just-released Finding the Mother Tree on the intelligence of trees: You also found that birches give sugars to fir trees in the summer through the mycorrhizal networks and that firs return the favor by sending food to birches in the spring and fall, when the birches lack leaves. Isn’t that cool? Some scientists were having trouble with this: Why would a tree send photosynthetic…

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Kreuzspinne im Netz

Spiders May Not Know It But They Are Making Music

An MIT researcher has developed an algorithm that translates the delicate vibrations of spider webs into music

One of the presentations at the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2021 meeting featured an algorithm that makes music from the analysis of spiders’ webs: “The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings,” says Markus Buehler, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator, who is presenting the work. “They don’t see very well, so they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies.” Such vibrations occur, for example, when the spider stretches a silk strand during construction, or when the wind or a trapped fly moves the web. Buehler, who has long been interested in music, wondered if he could extract rhythms and melodies of non-human origin from natural materials, such as spider webs. “Webs could be a new source for…