Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryNatural Intelligence

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team of ants gathering strawberry, agriculture teamwork

Ants Use Algorithms Similar to Those of the Internet

Optimization algorithms enable the ant colony to decide how many ants to send to a given food source and when to drastically reduce the number

Researchers are beginning to understand how ant colonies can make complex decisions. It’s best understood, they say, as something like an optimization algorithm: Scientists found that ants and other natural systems use optimization algorithms similar to those used by engineered systems, including the Internet. These algorithms invest incrementally more resources as long as signs are encouraging but pull back quickly at the first sign of trouble. The systems are designed to be robust, allowing for portions to fail without harming the entire system. Understanding how these algorithms work in the real world may help solve engineering problems, whereas engineered systems may offer clues to understanding the behavior of ants, cells, and other natural systems. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, “Deciphering algorithms…

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cropped shot of robot playing chess on wooden surface

Is AlphaZero Actually Superior to the Human Mind?

Comparing AI and the human mind is completely apples and oranges

The Google-backed AI company DeepMind made headlines in March 2016 when its AlphaGo game AI engine was able to defeat Lee Sedol, one of the top Go players in the world. DeepMind followed up this great achievement with the AlphaZero engine in 2017, which made the remarkable achievement of soundly beating AlphaGo in Go as well as one of the world’s best chess engines in chess. The interesting difference between AlphaGo and AlphaZero is that AlphaGo uses databases of top human games for learning, while AlphaZero only learns by playing against itself. Using the same AI engine to dominate two different games, while also discarding reliance on human games suggests that DeepMind has found an algorithm that is intrinsically superior…

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

Single Neurons Perform Complex Math — Even in Fruit Flies

The fly wants something simple — to avoid getting swatted or eaten, for example — but that requires some algebra

We may not think of our neurons as performing complex calculations but they must do so in order to determine where sound is coming from or where a moving object is headed. For a long while, how they do it has been a mystery. Recently, researchers at the Max Planck Institute reported that they have “discovered the biophysical basis by which a specific type of neuron in fruit flies can multiply two incoming signals,” the “algebra of neurons”: We easily recognize objects and the direction in which they move. The brain calculates this information based on local changes in light intensity detected by our retina. The calculations occur at the level of individual neurons. But what does it mean when…

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Nerve Cell. 3D. Neurons

When a Tiny Brain Is Actually an Advantage

Small size — which includes having a small brain — hones the gnat ogre’s remarkable neurological abilities

The University of Minnesota, pointing to a just-published research paper, asks us to contemplate a remarkable piece of flight engineering on the part of a rather frightening fly: For those of us who occasionally trip over a curb or bump into a door frame, it’s hard to imagine an organism with a brain smaller than the period at the end of this sentence deftly maneuvering around obstacles while chasing fast-moving prey on the wing… The research, carried out by Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido, Mary Sumner, and Trevor Wardill of the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences, and Sam Fabian of the Imperial College London Department of Bioengineering, focuses on the aerial feats of a miniature robber fly known as a gnat…

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Playful White Cockatoo

The Remarkable Things We’re Learning About Bird Intelligence

These findings are only among birds that have actually been studied; most birds have not been studied for intelligence

At one time, there was an assumption — not really a theory — that vertebrates would be more intelligent than invertebrates and mammals would be more intelligent than birds. Well along came the octopus, which turns out to be as intelligent as a typical mammal. And the New Zealand crow, which can be as smart as an ape. These life forms have significantly different brains from each other so intelligence does not appear to reside in a specific organization of the brain. While researchers puzzle that out, let’s look at some recent findings as to what the bird (avian) brain can do. We are looking at behaviors that probably require some individual intelligence, not just an inherited program: ● Cockatoos…

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Cute little baby looking into the camera

The Mystery of How Newborns Know Things Gets Deeper

But learning more about it may help us understand autism spectrum disorders better

Neuroscientist Giorgio Vallortigara ponders the mystery of how exactly babies quickly recognize things when they are born — like human faces — that they simply cannot have learned. We might call it “imprinting” or “instinct” but that’s just a classification, not an explanation. The author of Born Knowing (MIT Press, 2021) decided to start with chicks. That’s a bit simpler. Psychology students know, of course, that newly hatched chicks seem to know that they should follow their mother and do what she does. But what specific cues enable them to identify their mother? It turns out, according to his and colleagues’ research, that they are looking for specific geometrical patterns: Chicks need to actively explore and learn about their environment…

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canada geese in flight

Source of Most Animal Intelligence Still a Mystery

Eric Cassell takes questions: If life forms are born or hatched knowing this stuff, it isn’t learned. But if it’s in the genes, where is it?

Recently, geologist Casey Luskin interviewed Eric Cassell, author of Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021) on one of the central mysteries of biology: How do animals “know” things that they can’t have figured out on their own? This is the third and final part. Here’s the first part, with transcript and notes and here’s the second. Below is the third part, the audience questions, with notes and partial transcript: Eric Cassell is an expert in navigation systems, including GPS whose experience includes more than four decades of experience in systems engineering related to aircraft, navigation and safety. He has long had an interest in animal navigation. His model for animal navigation is the natural algorithm:…

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Bienenkreis

Can Insects Be Conscious? Let’s Look At Bees First

Consciousness does not seem to reside in the neocortex so complex behavior in bees has raised the question for biologists and philosophers alike

Honeybee scientist Andrew Barron and philosopher Colin Klein, both then at Macquarie University in Australia, argue that bees have some form of consciousness. Let’s look at what they have to say: According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, Barron broached the question of bee consciousness with Klein, who was highly skeptical at first. But Barron pointed out that at least one key theory holds that …the core of human consciousness is not our impressive neocortex, but our much more primitive midbrain. This simple structure synthesizes sensory data into a unified, egocentric point of view that lets us navigate our world. Insects, Barron and Klein now argue, have midbrain-like structures, including a “central complex,” that seem to allow bugs to similarly…

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live house fly

How Do Insects Use Their Very Small Brains To Think Clearly?

How do they engage in complex behaviour with only 100.000 to a million neurons?

If we had a skeleton that was outside, not inside, our body — and six legs — we might find it easier to understand how insects think. But only a bit easier. Despite complex behavior, insects are working with 100,000 to maybe a million neurons, compared to our, maybe, 86 billion — but insects make the most of what they have. Consider, for example, the dragonfly. How does it manage to deal with all the issues that a fighter pilot must address, while catching prey? One adaptation is specialized neurons: Dragonflies (order Odonata) and hoverflies (order Diptera) are among insect flyers equipped with special neurons for targeting with optic flow. “The ability of insects to successfully pursue targets in clutter…

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Monarch Butterfly Congregation 2

Can Animal Behavior Simply Be Transferred Into the Genome?

For example, how do Monarch butterflies from Canada get to the same trees in Mexico as their great-grandparents landed in?

Recently, geologist Casey Luskin interviewed Eric Cassell, author of Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021) on one of the central mysteries of biology: How do animals “know” things that they can’t have figured out on their own? Here’s the first part, with transcript and notes. Below is the second part, which looks at some “how” questions. Eric Cassell is an expert in navigation systems, including GPS whose experience includes more than four decades of experience in systems engineering related to aircraft, navigation and safety. He has long had an interest in animal navigation. His model for animal navigation is the natural algorithm: The animal’s brain is “programmed” to enable navigation. Here’s Part II of our…

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Common octopus in large sea water aquarium

Science Paper: Could Octopuses Be Aliens From Outer Space?

It’s the octopus’s intelligence that causes such usual theses to float in the science literature

A 2018 science paper that suggests that the brainy cephalopod might have originated off the planet has been receiving new attention. The basic thesis is that the Cambrian Explosion, which produced most of the basic animal life forms we see today, was the outcome of extraterrestrial viruses carried on a meteor that crashed onto Earth 540 million years ago. The underlying theory is panspermia, a hypothesis espoused by Francis Crick, that some viruses and bacteria travel on the tails of comets or meteors and may take root on planets: These comets could have introduced Earth to novel life-forms that evolved on other planets, including viruses, durable microorganisms like unearthly tardigrades or, as the new study suggests, even fertilized animal eggs…

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Closeup of a red wood ant. Concept useful insects.

Neuroscience Mystery: How Do Tiny Brains Enable Complex Behavior?

Eric Cassell notes that insects with brains of only a million neurons exhibit principles found only in the most advanced man-made navigation systems. How?

Recently, geologist Casey Luskin interviewed Eric Cassell, author of Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021) on one of the central mysteries: How do animals “know” things that they can’t have figured out on their own? Consider, for example, butterflies migrating over several generations from Canada to Mexico and back. No single butterfly makes the whole trip there or back. How can animals do math they know nothing about? How can a great deal of information be packed into a brain with comparatively few neurons? We are slowly learning about some of that. Eric Cassell is an expert in navigation systems, including GPS, whose experience includes more than four decades in systems engineering related to aircraft,…

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Puppy pressing his paw against a Girl hand

Dogs Understand Many More Words Than We Think

They also pick up very readily on human emotions, researchers have found

Sophie Jacques, Associate Professor, Psychology and Neuroscience, Dalhousie University, came up with some interesting figures on dogs recognizing words. Starting in 2015, she and a colleague developed a list of 172 words organized in different categories (for example, toys, food, commands, outdoor places) and gave it to an online sample of 165 owners of family and professional dogs. We asked them to select words that their dogs responded to consistently. We found that, on average, service dogs respond to about 120 words, whereas family pets respond to about 80 words, ranging between 15 to 215 words across all dogs. We also found that certain breed groups, such as herding dogs like border collies and toy dogs like chihuahuas, respond to…

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Black Chimpanzee Mammal Ape

Chimps Who Can’t Crack Nuts Prove They Are More Like Humans? Huh?

The lengths to which some researchers will go to attempt to discredit human exceptionalism are an assault on reason and common sense

In a recent experiment, researchers determined that chimpanzees need to be taught how to use stones to crack nuts; individuals don’t grasp the idea for themselves. In a series of four experiments, 35 parties of chimps were given oil palm nuts and stones but “on no occasion did the chimpanzees crack or eat either oil palm or Coula nuts,” presumably because they did not know how. Then the primatologists go on to draw an amazing conclusion: Their culture is therefore more similar to human culture than often assumed… “Our findings suggest that chimpanzees acquire cultural behaviors more like humans and do not simply invent a complex tool use behavior like nut cracking on their own,” says Koops. The presence of…

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coconut octopus underwater macro portrait on sand

Loving Goodbye… From an Octopus?

Did the octopus really know she was dying? Was she trying to say goodbye?

The film My Octopus Teacher (2020) paved the way for studying the intelligence of the remarkable eight-armed creature. One outcome has been more attention paid to other remarkable stories of human–octopus friendships. At Hakai Magazine, we learn about a part-time science teacher who befriended an octopus and learned a sad truth about her eight-armed companion: One of the first octopuses Nitz raised was an algae octopus (Abdopus aculeatus) she named the Once-ler after the narrator of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. She and her daughters would stand in front of the Once-ler’s tank and wave their whole arms as though they were undulating blades of kelp. Eventually, the Once-ler started waving back, imitating their movements with a single arm while…

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Crab close up, Cuba

How Could We Know If an Octopus or Lobster Felt Pain?

Researchers found that, when it comes to awareness, octopuses were the stars, followed by lobsters, crayfish, crabs, etc.

Some researchers, commissioned to find out, offered their wrap-up thoughts at Phys.org recently. They started applying the same standards to octopuses as are applied to mammals that are lab animals. Specifically, they used eight criteria for determining sentience — in the sense that, if you did the same thing to a dog and got the same reaction, would you assume it was pain? The results have been interesting: We found the strongest evidence for sentience in cephalopods. Octopuses were the stars. With around 170 million brain cells, they have higher brain-to-body ratios than most reptiles and fish. This allows octopuses to perform remarkable feats of learning and memory. Octopuses also behave in ways that point strongly to experiences of pain.…

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Chorus sheet music

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” Christmas Music is All in Your Mind

Is music a matter of matter and energy alone, or is there something more to the story?

What better time than the Christmas season to explore immaterial realities of the human mind? A perfect example to consider is Christmas music. It’s everywhere during the holiday season. But what exactly is music? Described in purely physical terms, music is what humans sometimes perceive from the vibrations of air. Individual pieces of music are described less in physical terms and more in subjective terms using words that reflect how humans experience music in their minds. Eight key elements of music fall mostly into the category of qualia, i.e., experiences that occur in the hearers’ minds only: Dynamics, Form, Harmony, Melody, Rhythm, Texture, Timbre and Tonality. Do you know the Christmas song “We Three Kings” when you hear it? Written in 1857, the song has been arranged…

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Ant action standing.Ant bridge unity team,Concept team work together

A Navigator Asks Animals: How Do You Find Your Way?

The results are amazing. Many life forms do math they know nothing about

In “New book spotlights high tech animal navigation,” aircraft navigator Eric Cassell, speaking recently with geologist Casey Luskin on his new book, Animal Algorithms: Evolution and the Mysterious Origin of Ingenious Instincts (2021)Animals “know” things that there is no way they thought of themselves — or that their parents did. The problem with the “nature or nurture?” debate we all learned about in Psychology 101 is that the debate doesn’t matter. There’s no such simple explanation for how animals learn things like this: … my favorite example is actually in, uh, a desert ant that resides in deserts in Africa, and these ants actually employ several different types of navigation centers. They use a sun compass, a polarized light compass.…

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bacteria

Would Cognition in Bacteria “Dethrone” Humans?

A cognition researcher’s approach to the question helps account for the growing popularity of panpsychism — as an alternative

Adelaide University cognition researcher Pamela Lyon offered an interesting thesis at Aeon last month: “Cognition did not appear out of nowhere in ‘higher’ animals but goes back millions, perhaps billions, of years.” Given that several scientists have recently made claims for cognition in single-celled entities, her contention is not all that surprising. But her approach to the topic prompts some thought: Lyon, who has little time for doubters, invokes Charles Darwin in calling for a “Copernican” shift in thinking on the subject: In On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin draws a picture of the long sweep of evolution, from the beginning of life, playing out along two fundamental axes: physical and mental. Body and mind. All living beings,…

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Octopus

British Government Moves To Protect Octopuses From Cruelty

The move to protect cephalopods and crabs/lobsters follows from research showing their intelligence and awareness of pain

Following a report from the London School of Economics and Political Science, the British government has decided to extend animal protection laws to include “cephalopods (including octopuses, squid and cuttlefish) and decapods (including crabs, lobsters and crayfish).” No, this is not just another nut moment along the lines of “Salad is plant murder!” There’s a background: Researchers have discovered in recent decades that some invertebrates, especially those with complex central nervous systems, are much more intelligent and capable of experiencing pain (sentient) than we used to think. As George Dvorsky explains at Gizmodo, the British government introduced the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill in May. The bill defined sentient animals as animals with backbones (vertebrates). However, scientists have known for some…