Great apes and ravens plan without thinking

November 28, 2018, Stockholm University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Planning and self control in animals do not require human-like mental capacities, according to a study from Stockholm University. Newly developed learning models, similar to models within artificial intelligence research, show how planning in ravens and great apes can develop through prior experiences without any need of thinking.

Researchers have previously suggested that ravens can plan better than four-year-old children. The new study "What can do for planning?" rejects the idea that ravens and great apes have human-like planning capacities.

"Animals can make decisions that lack immediate benefits but that instead may lead to something meaningful in the future. Some researchers have suggested that planning in great apes and ravens develops through thinking, that they simulate future scenarios and make decisions based on such mental simulations. My study shows that planning behaviours and in non-human instead can emerge through associative learning," says Johan Lind, associate professor in Ethology, at Centre for Cultural Evolution, Stockholm University, author of the study.

The study uses computer simulations of previously published studies of great apes and ravens. At the Centre for Cultural Evolution, researchers have formulated a new mathematical model of learning in animals, similar to models in artificial intelligence research. This new learning model was subjected to similar scenarios as the ones ravens and great apes experienced in the planning studies, to explore what it takes to exhibit similar planning capacities as those shown by ravens and great apes.

The computer simulations showed that the learning model, that is unable to think or simulate future scenarios, was able to learn to plan as well as the animals did in the experiments. This model is also capable of learning self-control. It can learn to ignore small immediate food rewards to instead choose, for example, a tool that can only be used after a long delay. But after the long delay the tool can be used to get a large food reward.

"We know today that similar learning models within artificial intelligence research can learn to play board games and beat human players. However, these kinds of learning models are often ignored in the study of animal cognition. Animals are often very efficient in learning from their experiences, and this helps them survive in places that often are hostile and competitive," says Lind.

Explore further: Learning makes animals intelligent

More information: What can associative learning do for planning? Royal Society Open Science DOI: 10.1098/rsos.180778

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5 comments

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Jayarava
3 / 5 (2) Nov 28, 2018
Oh please, computer simulations don't tell us anything about ravens. They tell us about computer simulations. How do you prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that your simulation is in any way related to what is happening in an organic brain? It is simply not possible. Thus the conclusion is bunk.
mqr
3 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2018
A model of the very stable genius and his followers can show that they too plan without minimum thoughts. That is why the ecological disaster is not important, because there is no thinking, only anger and greed.
rrwillsj
3.5 / 5 (2) Nov 28, 2018
This article is a perfect example of several pop-science themes.. First the ad dollar value of clickbait headlines.

Then a combination of translating from another language into what passes today for English.
Plus that the word choices do not match the intent of the originating researchers or the expectations of the laymen trying to interpret this kludged up verbalization.

For a subject this complex. That automatically triggers your emotional prejudices? Go to the bottom of the article & click thru to the original source material.

Lacking the capacity to understand modeling & simulation programs? Is your problem.
Not a failure of the researchers using the computer tools.
Go whine to Leonardo da Vinci for inventing these methods that developed modern technology.

&, who knows? You might even learn something? Even if it is only a number of colorful, dialectal-Italian swear words, curses, imprecations & maledictions.
A true Liberal Arts education.
katesisco
5 / 5 (1) Nov 29, 2018
I think its more of serendipity. Maybe several avenues are open and waiting brings a more beneficial one.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
1 / 5 (1) Nov 30, 2018
Several immediate things;
- The current successful deep learning architecture is hardware opportunistic. The vertebrate brain is not, a cortex has less layers IIRC.
- The deep learning architecture is famously not understood and hard to interrogate. (Though they may yet put another deep learning network on it...)
- There is no reason to suspect that the human or our ancestor's brains work differently, how and why would that evolve? The main difference is that we experience that we self interrogate; but we also know that this experience lags "planning" with up to 7 seconds! So naively we also "plan without thinking" - whatever that headline means beyond the click bait . and we have learned to post-construct what we "thought (planned)" to seem reasonable to ourselves.
- There were other hardware structures that mimicked the cortex around the early 00's, and they self-organized "symbolic" thinking in spatial chunks that could be understood. We also like symbols...

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