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posted by janrinok on Monday June 11, @06:15PM   Printer-friendly
from the understanding-nothing dept.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180607141031.htm

By demonstrating that even tiny brains can comprehend complex, abstract concepts, the surprise finding opens possibilities for new, simpler approaches to developing Artificial Intelligence. In research published in the journal Science, Australian and French researchers tested whether honey bees can rank numerical quantities and understand that zero belongs at the lower end of a sequence of numbers.

Associate Professor Adrian Dyer, from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said the number zero was the backbone of modern maths and technological advancements.

"Zero is a difficult concept to understand and a mathematical skill that doesn't come easily -- it takes children a few years to learn," Dyer said. "We've long believed only humans had the intelligence to get the concept, but recent research has shown monkeys and birds have the brains for it as well. What we haven't known -- until now -- is whether insects can also understand zero."

As well as being a critical pollinator, the honeybee is an exceptional model species for investigating insect cognition, with previous research showing they can learn intricate skills from other bees and even understand abstract concepts like sameness and difference. But bee brains have fewer than 1 million neurons -- compared with the 86,000 million neurons of a human brain -- and little was known about how insect brains would cope with being tested on such an important numeric skill.

RMIT PhD researcher Scarlett Howard set out to test the honeybee on its understanding, marking individual honeybees for easy identification and luring them to a specially-designed testing apparatus. The bees were trained to choose an image with the lowest number of elements in order to receive a reward of sugar solution. For example, the bees learned to choose three elements when presented with three vs. four; or two elements when presented with two vs. three.

When Howard periodically tested the bees with an image that contained no elements versus an image that had one or more, the bees understood that the set of zero was the lower number -- despite never having been exposed to an "empty set."

Dyer, a researcher in the Bio Inspired Digital Sensing-Lab (BIDS-Lab) in RMIT's Digital Ethnography Research Centre, said the findings opened the door to new understandings of how different brains could represent zero.

"This is a tricky neuroscience problem," he said. "It is relatively easy for neurons to respond to stimuli such as light or the presence of an object but how do we, or even an insect, understand what nothing is? How does a brain represent nothing? Could bees and other animals that collect lots of food items, have evolved special neural mechanisms to enable the perception of zero? If bees can learn such a seemingly advanced maths skill that we don't even find in some ancient human cultures, perhaps this opens the door to considering the mechanism that allows animals and ourselves to understand the concept of nothing."


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, @06:22PM (11 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, @06:22PM (#691527)

    "Zero is a difficult concept to understand and a mathematical skill that doesn't come easily -- it takes children a few years to learn," Dyer said. "We've long believed only humans had the intelligence to get the concept, but recent research has shown monkeys and birds have the brains for it as well. What we haven't known -- until now -- is whether insects can also understand zero."

    Perhaps it isn't so difficult to understand the concept of zero then? Also, can't they just be training the bees to recognize the amount of color on the page or whatever?

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by frojack on Monday June 11, @06:59PM (5 children)

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 11, @06:59PM (#691544) Journal

      Exactly. Nothing about ZERO was learned or understood.

      They learned to AVOID the "elements" to get more food.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, @07:06PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, @07:06PM (#691551)

        They learned to AVOID the "elements" to get more food.

        So they learned to avoid all elements, and choose zero elements to get more food?

      • (Score: 2, Funny) by tftp on Monday June 11, @07:13PM (1 child)

        by tftp (806) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 11, @07:13PM (#691553) Homepage

        I would think so. All animals know how to avoid enemies. Two wasps... one wasp... no wasps! The danger is gone!

        • (Score: 2) by frojack on Monday June 11, @09:23PM

          by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 11, @09:23PM (#691619) Journal

          They probably simply ended up regarding the "elements" as contenders, competition, even in the absence of any threat.

          --
          No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 2) by edIII on Tuesday June 12, @12:08AM (1 child)

        by edIII (791) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday June 12, @12:08AM (#691673)

        What I want to understand, is the difference between a lower order animal (dramatically less neurons) understanding that items belong in a sequence, and that lower order animal understanding the sequence and why it is that way. I think it would be obvious that any clever animal, or even not so clever, could repeat sequences back to us for a reward.

        Get back to me when the subjects are continuously failing the tests because they can see through the testing, and know that it's pointless. That will demonstrate an understanding of higher level concepts, such as "Tell em what they want hear" and "Sycophants make it to next the top".

        • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday June 12, @01:32AM

          by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday June 12, @01:32AM (#691726)

          >because they can see through the testing, and know that it's pointless
          Why would you think such a thing? Passing the test yields sugar, and sugar is the meaning of life. Or at least the reason they work so tirelessly. I mean, they mostly go their whole life without even getting laid. (Worker bees can actually reproduce, but due to how honeybee genetics work, they're more much more closely related to their siblings than their own children - so there's not really any biological incentive)

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by tfried on Monday June 11, @07:53PM (1 child)

      by tfried (5534) on Monday June 11, @07:53PM (#691566)

      Or perhaps the researcher failed to understand that the "zero" is not simply the concept of "nothing", but a symbolic representation of said concept. Which is where the difficulty seems to lie for human kids at least: How can something denote nothing, and what should that be good for?

      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday June 12, @02:07AM

        by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday June 12, @02:07AM (#691748)

        Very true. In fact it's not even just a symbolic representation of nothing - the word "nothing" is that, and has I'm sure been around far longer.

        What made zero so revolutionary and contentious was that it is a formal *numeric* representation of nothing - numbers were created for counting, and how can you *count* nothing?

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, @11:12PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, @11:12PM (#691660)

      My cat understands zero purfectly. Zero food in bowl = kick up a fuss. Non-zero food in bowl = zero fuss. "Scientists" think they are SO klever...

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 12, @01:03AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 12, @01:03AM (#691708)

      You know, half of American children don't understand zero at school even though both overeat sugar.

      • (Score: 3, Funny) by maxwell demon on Tuesday June 12, @05:03AM

        by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday June 12, @05:03AM (#691785) Journal

        Well, the difference to this experiment is, the bees have to understand zero to get the sugar. ;-)

        --
        The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, @07:52PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, @07:52PM (#691565)
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 12, @02:14AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 12, @02:14AM (#691750)

    The hairless apes betray their problems with math, by projecting their lack of math skills onto the rest of the animal kingdom. It's a simple binary, for most animals. Food, or no food. Survive, or don't survive. Yes, or no. One, or zero. Hairless apes imagine oasis in the desert because they have problems with simple concepts. One, or zero - the presence of water, or the absence of water. Animals don't drive themselves nuts trying to decide if there is water. They just accept that there is no water, and go in search of water. Hairless apes sit on the dry desert sand, and cry while imagining water. That's just crazy.

  • (Score: 1) by west on Tuesday June 12, @02:24AM

    by west (6884) on Tuesday June 12, @02:24AM (#691752)

    >86,000 million neurons of a human brain

    that's wrong its more like 7-20 trillion.

    and any animal understands "nothing".
    my cat freaks out when its food dish has 0 foods.

  • (Score: 2) by PiMuNu on Tuesday June 12, @11:38AM (2 children)

    by PiMuNu (3823) on Tuesday June 12, @11:38AM (#691857)

    > the surprise finding opens possibilities for new, simpler approaches to developing Artificial Intelligence.

    No it doesn't.

    • (Score: 2) by isostatic on Tuesday June 12, @03:18PM (1 child)

      by isostatic (365) on Tuesday June 12, @03:18PM (#691944) Journal

      At least that's closer to an article 6 months ago which would have tied it into "the blockchain"

  • (Score: 2) by Corelli's A on Tuesday June 12, @02:47PM

    by Corelli's A (1772) on Tuesday June 12, @02:47PM (#691923)

    Zero bugs found!

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