Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


A raven in Dartmoor, UK

So Now Ravens Are As Smart As Chimpanzees…

But wait! Weren’t chimpanzees supposed to be the closest thing to humans?

Researchers tested ravens they had raised themselves (“hand-raised”), starting at four months of age (not far from the egg…) and then at 8, 12, and 16 months of age on a series of cognitive skills, compared to chimpanzees: Comparing the cognitive performance of the ravens with those of 106 chimpanzees and 32 orangutans who completed similar tasks in a previous study, the authors found that with the exception of spatial memory, the cognitive performance of the ravens was very similar to those of orangutans and chimpanzees. Nature Publishing Group , “Cognitive performance of four-months-old ravens may parallel adult apes” at Phys.org Here’s the open-access study. The authors offer an explanation: The findings provide evidence that ravens, similarly to great apes,…

Tumor cell under attack of white blood cells

Why Do Many Scientists See Cells as Intelligent?

Bacteria appear to show intelligent behavior. But what about individual cells in our bodies?

Recently, we talked about the ways in which bacteria are intelligent. Researchers into antibiotic resistance must deal with the surprisingly complex ways bacteria “think” in order to counter them. For example, some bacteria may warn others while dying from antibiotics. But what about individual cells in our bodies? A skeptic might say that bacteria are, after all, individual entities like dogs or cats. There is evidence that individual life forms can show intelligence even with no brain. But dependent cells? Surprisingly, cells that are not independent at all but part of a body can also show something that looks like intelligence, as Michael Denton discusses in Miracle of the Cell (2020): No one who has observed a leucocyte (a white…

Gray Mouse Lemur, microcebus murinus

Lemurs with Brains 1/200 the Size of Chimps’ Pass Same IQ Test

This new finding about mouse lemurs also makes human exceptionalism more exceptional
Researchers were surprise to discover recently that the mouse lemur, a tiny primate whose brain is 1/200th the size of a chimpanzee’s brain, did as well as great apes on a primate intelligence test. Read More ›
Pair of ravens in courtship. Corvus corax

Why Does Science Embrace the “Talking Animals” Myth?

Many birds are quite smart but why do some researchers imply that they think like people?

In recent years, studies have confirmed a widespread cultural intuition that some birds, particularly corvids like crows and ravens, are “smart.” They show considerable problem-solving skills. Thus, they loom large in mythology as messengers and tricksters. For example, the Norse king of the gods (pictured) had two ravens as advisors. Oddly enough, science today retains the mythology and makes a curious use of it: New discoveries about the specifics of corvid brain organization and intelligence are framed as demonstrating that humans do not really have as exceptional thinking ability as we suppose: Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and…

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…

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,…

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…

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…

Candy stripe flatworm

How Can Life Forms Show Intelligence With No Brain?

A Wall Street Journal piece points to the flatworm as an example

At the Wall Street Journal this weekend, Alison Gopnik a developmental psychologist and author of a number of books on child and infant learning, pointed to the learning skills of life forms without a brain and offers some insights: It might seem obvious that you need a brain to be intelligent, but a new area of research called “basal cognition” explores whether there are kinds of intelligence that don’t require neurons and synapses. Alison Gopnik, “Learning Without a Brain” at Wall Street Journal (July 26, 2020) If we look at the behavior of slime molds and the blob at the Paris Zoo, it’s not at all obvious that a life form needs a brain to be “intelligent.” Not if all…

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…

Robot typing on keyboard

Bingecast: George Montañez on Intelligence and the Turing Test

What do computer scientists say about the ability of machines to think? Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science, tackled the question in 1950 and proposed the Turing test as an answer. Is the Turing test important today? Can a deeper undertanding of intelligence be culled for the Turing test? Robert J. Marks discusses the Turing test, artificial intelligence,…

Two Astronauts on the Alien Planet Discover Plant Life. Space Travel, Discovery Of Habitable Worlds and Colonization Concept.

Is Intelligence Common or Rare in the Universe?

A recent analysis says that life is common but intelligence not so much. Let’s explore the reasoning

We really don't know anything about life elsewhere in the universe so even university-trained scientists often try to WISH it into existence.

Read More ›

Unexplainability and Incomprehensibility of AI

In the domain of AI safety, the more accurate the explanation is, the less comprehensible it is

With AI decision-making, a non-trivial explanation can’t be both accurate and understandable but it can be inaccurate and comprehensible. There is a huge difference between understanding something and almost understanding it.

Read More ›

The Turing Test, Artificial Intelligence, and Intelligent Design

Artificial intelligence and intelligent design both refer to the idea of “intelligence.” Is there a deeper understanding of intelligence that can be culled from the Turing test? Robert J. Marks discusses the Turing test, artificial intelligence, and intelligent design with Dr. George Montañez. Show Notes 00:33 | Introducing Dr. George Montañez, Iris and Howard Critchell Assistant Professor of Computer Science…

Internet academic learning, e-learning and online college education concept theme with close up on graduation cap with red tassel on computer keyboard
Mortar Board on top of keyboard

Artificial Intelligence Is Actually Superficial Intelligence

The confusing ways the word “intelligence” is used belie the differences between human intelligence and machine sophistication

Words often have more meaning than we hear at first. Consider colors. We associate green with verdant, healthy life and red with prohibition and danger. But these inferences are not embedded in the basic meaning of “red” or “green.” They are cultural accretions we attach to words that enable the richness of language. That, by the way, is one reason why legal documents and technical papers are so difficult to read. The terms used are stripped clean of such baggage, requiring additional words to fill the gaps. The word “intelligent” is like that. Saying that a computer, or a program, is intelligent can lead us down a rabbit hole of extra meaning. An honest researcher merely means the computer has…


Is Salad Murder?

A Darwinian biologist wrestles with the significance of plant intelligence

If plants can sense things and communicate with each other, even though they lack a mind or brain, should they have rights? In an age of sometimes violent animal rights activism, that’s not an idle question. Plant physiologist Ulrich Kutschera, author of Physiology of Plants. Sensible Vegetation in Action (January 2019, German), talked about it in a recent interview: This is a serious issue which is related to plant intelligence. In April 2009, the Swiss Parliament discussed the topic of “plant ethics” and proposed to attribute to plants a kind of “Würde”, which can be translated as “dignity” (3). As a consequence, some radical plant ethics-activists have distributed T-shirts and other propaganda material with the slogan “Salad is murder”. Despite…


Is the octopus a “second genesis of intelligence”?

Can its strange powers provide insights for robotics or the human mind?
What’s really interesting about these stories is that, while we are learning that there is much intelligence in the animal (and plant) world, including some that can be applied to robotics, very little sheds light on explicitly human intelligence. Read More ›