Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagNumber sense

giant abacus
A cute girl playing with wooden abacus. Educational concept for kids. Learing to count. Math for children. Math for children.

The Mystery of Numeracy: How DID We Learn To Count?

Some animals can do rough figuring but only humans count

At a time when many people see numbers, arithmetic, and mathematics as mere oppression, others are intrigued by the basic question, how did the human race learn to do math? There are some clues, as a new project called Quanta is trying to establish. First, while no animals use abstract numbers in the wild, some animals can do rough figuring: Although researchers once thought that humans were the only species with a sense of quantity, studies since the mid-twentieth century have revealed that many animals share the ability. For instance, fish, bees and newborn chicks can instantly recognize quantities up to four, a skill known as subitizing. Some animals are also capable of ‘large-quantity discrimination’: they can appreciate the difference…

child girl playing with counter toy at nursery

Babies Have a Number Sense Before They Can Count

The study showed that counting with babies makes a difference, even though their understanding is not very exact

The question was not whether the infants understood the exact numbers (they didn’t) but whether they understood that the researchers were, in fact, counting things.

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Did an AI Really Learn Human-like Number Sense?

That's the claim, but critics say that humans imposed the number sense

Does artificial intelligence “share our natural ability to make numeric snap judgments”? Researchers observed this knack for numbers in a computer model composed of virtual brain cells, or neurons, called an artificial neural network. After being trained merely to identify objects in images — a common task for AI — the network developed virtual neurons that respond to specific quantities. These artificial neurons are reminiscent of the “number neurons” thought to give humans, birds, bees and other creatures the innate ability to estimate the number of items in a set (SN: 7/7/18, p. 7). This intuition is known as number sense. Maria Temming, “A new AI acquired humanlike ‘number sense’ on its own” at ScienceNews A team led by neurobiologist…