Taganimals

Should we engineer animals to be smart like humans?

Mojo Jojo meditating

Science fiction writer Tim Maughan reports on the real science of making animals smarter:

In 2011, a research team led by Sam Deadwyler of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, used five rhesus monkeys to study the factors that lead people with diseases like Alzheimer’s to lose control of their thought processes. The researchers trained the monkeys in an intelligence task that involved learning and identifying images and symbols. They were then given doses of cocaine in order to dull their intelligence and made to repeat the test, with predictably less impressive results.

What happened in the next stage of the research was remarkable. The same monkeys were fitted with neural prosthetics – brain implants designed to monitor and correct the functions of the neurons disabled by the cocaine. These implants successfully restored normal brain function to the monkeys when they were drugged – but crucially, if they were activated before the monkeys had been drugged, they improved the primates’ performance beyond their original test results. The aim of the experiments was to see whether neural prosthetics could theoretically be used to restore decision-making in humans who have suffered trauma or diseases such as Alzheimer’s – but as far as these specific tests were concerned at least, the brain prosthetics appeared to make the monkeys smarter.

Full Story: BBC: Should we engineer animals to be smart like humans?

While the obvious answer to that question is “hell no,” Tim points out that the medical research research motivations may make smarter animals an inevitability. He dives deeper into the ethical questions in the article.

More by Tim:

#burgerpunk

Zero Hours

These tiny scorpions would like to perform an important inspection of your old book collection, please

Book scorpion

Scientific American reports on the horrifying ecosystem of old books:

Book scorpions are the best/worst thing to happen to books, because book scorpions! But also book scorpions…

Properly known as pseudoscorpions, these tiny, tiny creatures have a fondness for old books, because old books also happen to contain delicious booklice and dust mites. And they’re really not book scorpions… at all because they can’t hurt us, and they’ve basically been performing a free pest control service since humans started stacking excessive numbers of dusty, bound-together piles of paper along our walls and nightstands. This arrangement works because old book-makers used to bind books using a starch-based glue that booklice and dust mites love, so without a healthy population of book scorpions patrolling your collection, those gross parasites are probably having a horrible, silent field-day chewing them all apart.

Full Story: These tiny scorpions would like to perform an important inspection of your old book collection, please

(via Matt Staggs)

More Masked Monkeys of Indonesia

Pertu-Saska-a-kind-of-you-1

A couple years ago I linke to a collection of photos of the deplorable living conditions of leashed begger-monkeys in Jakarta. Here’s another photo gallery on the monkeys, with an emphasis on how creepy they look, rather than how they are abused.

ufunk: The Disturbing World of Street Apes in Jakarta

(Thanks Hautepop)

U.S. Army Funding Research To Control Living Insects To Use As Drones

grasshopper

Haaretz reports:

In a Technion aeronautics laboratory, a pair of scientists are conducting experiments funded by the U.S. Army that would allow them to control the flight of insects from afar, as if they were mechanical flight vehicles. [...]

Research in this field has developed considerably over the past decade thanks to advances in electronic equipment. The Technion lab is one of some five laboratories around the world conducting similar research. The University of Michigan team has been particularly successful, having managed to control the flight of insects from afar, for allotted periods of time. In the Haifa laboratory, researchers have gained control of the flight of insects that are connected to a simulator. They can give a series of commands that control the flight movements of insects for a few minutes. [...]

Do the insects suffer? “I don’t know, and I don’t know whether anyone knows for sure,” says Ribak. “But the experiments which we conduct are extremely non-invasive. In comparison to experiments conducted on animals, this is child’s play,” he says. “The Helsinki agreements for experimentation on animals do not apply to insects. Insects are not regarded as important,” says Weihs. “After the electrodes are implanted, we don’t think there can be any pain, since the electric signal is a natural sign produced by the insect itself. We just tell the insect when it should make a movement, using these signals.”

Haaretz: In an Israeli lab, the world’s smallest drone

(Thanks Jim)

Some Bees Are “Thrill Seekers” – Does That Mean Insects Have Personalities?

From Wired UK:

The researchers found that thrill-seeking is not limited to humans and other vertebrates. The brains of honeybees that were more likely than others to seek adventure exhibited distinct patterns of gene activity in molecular pathways known to be associated with thrill-seeking in humans.

The findings present a new perspective on honeybee communities, which were thought to be highly-regimented and comprised of a colony of interchangeable workers taking on a few specific roles to serve their queen. [...]

Robinson and his team studies two behaviors that looked like novelty seeking: scouting for new nest sites and scouting for food. When a colony outgrows its living quarters, the swarm must hunt for a new home. Around five percent of the swarm goes hunting for new lodgings. These “nest scouts” are around 3.4 times more likely than their peers to also become food scouts, researchers discovered.

“There is a gold standard for personality research and that is if you show the same tendency in different contexts, then that can be called a personality trait,” Robinson said.

Wired Science: Honeybees May Have Personality

(via James Governor)

Photo by Gilles San Martin

Dolphins Talk in Their Sleep – In Whale

From ABC News:

News has come from France that some captive-born dolphins there have been recorded “talking in their sleep” — and talking in Whale, no less, not Dolphinese.

The scientists involved say this would be the first time that dolphins have been recorded mimicking sounds a significant period of time after hearing them.

ABC News: Dolphins Reported Talking Whale in Their Sleep

(via Cole Tucker)

Did Prehistoric Giant Squid Make Art From Bones?

Kraken

For decades, paleontologists have puzzled over a fossil collection of nine Triassic icthyosaurs (Shonisaurus popularis) discovered in Nevada’s Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. Researchers initially thought that this strange grouping of 45-foot-long marine reptiles had either died en masse from a poisonous plankton bloom or had become stranded in shallow water.

But recent geological analysis of the fossil site indicates that the park was deep underwater when these shonisaurs swam the prehistoric seas. So why were their bones laid in such a bizarre pattern? A new theory suggests that a 100-foot-long cephalopod arranged these bones as a self-portrait after drowning the reptiles. And no, we’re not talking about Cthulhu.

i09: Giant prehistoric krakens may have sculpted self-portraits using ichthyosaur bones

(via Disinfo)

See also: Wikipedia entry for Kraken

Update: I thought the absurdity of this (there is no actual evidence, just speculation on the part of the researchers) was obvious, but apparently I was wrong (thanks to Liddell for this link). It’s a lot like that bacteria in space rocks story from a while back – it’s based on someone looking at some pictures and saying what they might represent. There’s no actual discovery here.

The Masked Monkeys of Indonesia

masked monkey

masked monkeys

Ed Wray was terrified the first time he encountered a masked monkey. Having lived and worked in Jakarta as a freelance photographer for years, he was accustomed to seeing the animals, cruelly leashed by chains, jumping through hoops or riding trikes on the sidewalks. But for Wray, the mask was a terrifying twist.

“When I first saw a monkey with a rubber baby doll’s head stuck over its head as a mask, it immediately struck me as horrifying and beyond weird.” Wray said. “Something about the combination of the doll head – which I think is scary looking to begin with – and a long tail just struck a chord in me.”

Time: The Masked Monkeys of Indonesia

(Thanks Bill!)

To Talk With Aliens, Learn to Speak With Dolphins

Dolphins

Herzing created an open-ended framework for communication, using sounds, symbols and props to interact with the dolphins. The goal was to create a shared, primitive language that would allow dolphins and humans to ask for props, such as balls or scarves.

Divers demonstrated the system by pressing keys on a large submerged keyboard. Other humans would throw them the corresponding prop. In addition to being labeled with a symbol, each key was paired with a whistle that dolphins could mimic. A dolphin could ask for a toy either by pushing the key with her nose, or whistling.

Herzing’s study is the first of its kind. No one has tried to establish two-way communication in the wild.

“This is an authentic way to approach this, she’s not imposing herself on them,” said Lori Marino, the Emory University biologist who, with Hunter College psychologist Diana Reiss, pioneered dolphin self-recognition studies. “She’s cultivated a relationship with these dolphins over a very long time and it’s entirely on their terms. I think this is the future of working with dolphins.”

Wired: To Talk With Aliens, Learn to Speak With Dolphins

(via Bianca Lee)

Flame-throwing elephants clash with humans over resources in Bangladesh

Elephant

AN increasing number of humans are being killed by wild elephants each year in Bangladesh – with many of the fatalities occurring because people settle in the animals’ migration corridors.

Bangladesh is home to only an estimated 227 wild Asian elephants, but up to 100 more migrate through the country each year, mostly through the north and northeast, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

As more people in Bangladesh, one of the world’s most densely populated nations, settle in the elephant corridor areas, they are more likely to be attacked by confused, angry pachyderms. [...]

“I’ve seen an elephant snatch a torch from a man with its trunk while we were driving away a herd, and throw the flame on a house, setting it on fire,” said Luise, 51.”

Herald Sun: Flame-throwing elephants clash with humans over resources in Bangladesh

It’s a little hard to know if the torch thing is real or not – elephants are quite smart, so it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

(Thanks Trevor)

Previously: Human-Elephant Conflict

(Photo by Digiart2 / CC)

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