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Learning & Intelligence

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Cultural transmission of tool use in bottlenose dolphins. The Forecast Calls For Spiders. What’s better than one spider? How about several thousand? Sociality among spiders has independently evolved many times and is a highly conserved trait among some genera. So what does this mean? It means that with a bunch of spiders all working together, they can create much larger webs and can work together to take down much larger prey. One particular species in South America, Anelosimus eximius, can form colonies up to 50,000 strong, capable of making massive sheet webs that start near the ground and stretch up about 20 m (65 ft) high. While leaving the engagement party of a friend, a man in Brazil found a large group of spiders dangling overhead.

Ravens Keep Track of Others' Ranks. Ravens are political animals. They can distinguish different sorts of interactions between other ravens, then alter their behavior accordingly. Like humans and other mammals, ravens not only understand, but also keep track of third party relationships. They’re the first bird known to do so. In certain social organizations and dominance hierarchies, the key to survival is social intelligence and an understanding of community dynamics.

Not only do you need to know who’s nice and who’s not to get by on a daily basis, but for every political maneuver, it’s important to know who will support whom. To investigate this in these big brained birds, a team led by Jorg Massen from the University of Vienna, Austria, recorded audio files that contain vocal interactions between ravens and played them for a group of 16 captive ravens (Corvus corax).

Pictured below, a raven playing close attention to a played-back stimulus. The work was published in Nature Communications this week. Images: Jorg Massen. Crows could be the key to understanding alien intelligence. But seriously, Annalee.... We're all ready for you to write the definitive science fiction novel about crows. In fact, you've been teasing us all far too long now :-) Write it already!

Flagged I'm just gonna leave this here.... Have we been dramatically underestimating elephant intelligence? Elephants Use Their Trunks to Ace Intelligence Tests. Say it ain't so, Dumbo. Elephants rely on their trunks and not those big ol' ears to find their way to food and likely to solve other puzzles, report scientists. (See: "Elephants at Risk. ") Elephants are renowned for their acute senses of hearing and smell, both of which play central roles in their everyday life. But until now, it was not known how important these senses were for basic, everyday tasks. (See: "Elephant Photo Gallery. ") "This is one of the first times, to our knowledge, that elephants were shown to use olfaction [smell] in a basic intelligence test," said Joshua Plotnik, an animal behavior scientist from the University of Cambridge, U.K., who led the study, recently published in the journal Animal Behavior.

The results of the study offer insights into how elephants think and could be used to figure out ways they might be dissuaded from raiding farmers' food, suggest the study authors. Food IQ Test Smell Surprise The findings have important implications on many levels. Alex Wissner-Gross: A new equation for intelligence. 10 Reasons an Artificial Intelligence Wouldn't Turn Evil. Awesome post.. I'm now more afraid of having my limbs chopped off, despite your skilled arguments against such a fate.

Some general thoughts on the matter - I see no reason why an AI, or any set of AIs, wouldn't be susceptible to some form of irrationality, or even emotions of a very alien kind. In particular, this seems more plausible if much of the AI is assembled via evolutionary processes. Imagine an AI learning how to interact with humans via Internet discussions/comments. - I tend to fear indifference as a destructive potential in powerful AIs, more than evil.

Okay, yeah, if the AI is educated via message boards, we are all nuked. So It Turns Out That Monkeys Are Pretty Good At Doing Math. Can Crows Be Trained To Pick Up Litter? We’ve posted several times about corvid intelligence. These birds are capable of using tools, solving complex problems, remembering human faces, communicating within groups, and much more. This has led some to wonder if crows could be trained to do actual work, such as picking up litter. “But can’t humans just pick up after themselves?” You might ask. Theoretically, yes; that would be ideal. However, it has been made abundantly clear that some are either too lazy or simply not clever enough to locate a proper receptacle for their garbage, most notably their cigarette butts. Worldwide, it is estimated that 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts get cast out as litter each year.

Crows have demonstrated an ability to recognize and dispose of garbage. This demonstration was conducted by the staff at the Montecasino Bird Garden in Johannesburg, South Africa: Of course, there are some issues of practicality involved with training an army of crows with the sole purpose of ending litter. In mice, fear learned by parents is transferred to their offspring. The idea that organisms can stably inherit characteristics they acquire during their lifetimes was discarded a long time ago; the fact that it doesn't seem to happen was a big strike against the pre-Darwinian idea about evolution.

But over the last few decades, that idea has been making a bit of a comeback. We've identified a few forms of epigenetic inheritance—primarily chemical modifications of DNA—that can be changed during the life of an organism but can still be passed down to its progeny. There's clear evidence that this sort of inheritance is used in plants, and there are a few hints that it could influence significant traits in animals. Yesterday, Nature Neuroscience published a paper that provides the strongest evidence yet that an acquired trait can be passed down for several generations in mice. The paper itself inadvertently indicates just how radical this idea is. Rather than testing the mice themselves, however, the researchers decided to test their offspring.

The congruence bias is why we all jump to conclusions and stay there. The whole gateway drug thing is so flawed in so many ways. One being that though many people who are smack addicts started with pot, there are also many people that only ever smoke pot and never moved to heroin. What makes a lot more sense is that being a heroin addict would tend to suggest that you are open to trying drugs of all sorts so it stands to reason that you've probably done all kinds of drugs legal and otherwise before you reached the end. But you know what, even if weed was a gateway drug, so what?

Is it more of a gateway drug than alcohol or tobacco? You know it's kind of like the gay marriage thing reached the point where you cannot make any legitimate argument for why it should remain illegal that doesn't somehow rely on religious thought. Elephant Paints An Elephant. Who would have thought that elephants could paint? Not just paint but paint another elephant. Amazing that such creatures can have the skill to paint on a white canvas, and paint even better then some people. Watch this video of an elephant painting an elephant!

How our brains navigate the world without us noticing. To remain oriented in a complex world, our brains constantly make and revise maps of our surroundings. We do most of this mental mapping unconsciously, which makes it hard to study how our brains keep a firm grasp on space and time. “Every creature, no matter how simple or complex, must make maps of space,” said Mayank Mehta, a neuroscientist at UCLA. “Our goal is to understand what are the cues they are using and how they are putting them together.” To meet that goal, Mehta and his colleagues watched the brains of rats exploring a virtual reality environment and found that mental mapping relies on a wider variety of sensory input than previously thought. That’s right—they put rats in virtual reality. In the real world, it’s too hard to control all of the potential sensory stimuli, so to isolate the visual navigation cues, they put the rats in a virtual world that looked like a square room with cues on the walls.

“There is nothing that happens that is not in space or time.” On The Topic of Boredom. The Science of Practice: What Happens When You Learn a New Skill.