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The Intelligent Chicken Project

Welcome our new Poultry Overlords.
  (+4, -1)
(+4, -1)
  [vote for,

Ravens & Chimps both perform broadly as well as a two year old child in intelligence tests, of course in specific test areas both outperform a two year old & one another but averaged across all tests that seems to be the consensus for roughly where they fall.

Not very surprising with the Chimp which has a brain only a little smaller than a two year olds (around 384g) but the raven does it with a 15g brain.

That's 25.6 Raven brains (by weight) per Chimp brain, they're allegedly doing as well with near enough 4% the brain mass.

When you fly there's very strong evolutionary pressure to cut weight so it's not too surprising that they've found a few ways to achieve better results with less.

I have read articles that suggest some of the tricks birds have found are to do with a greater neuron density .. but how they do it isn't really important to this idea .. only that they do.

What I'd like to know is how well does it scale?

An adult human brain is around 1352g, could a 54g bird brain be as intelligent as a normal human?

So I propose we selectively breed birds for bigger brains just to see.

Ravens aren't particularly well known for their fecundity so they're probably not the best test subjects for this.

Chickens are something we've already selectively bred to reproduce at excessive speed & don't tend to fly away as much making it a lot easier to keep tabs on your experimental subjects.

So chickens it is then.

Essentially this will be The Intelligent Mouse Project.

But with chickens.

Accept that the Intelligent Mouse Project by design only selects for intelligence rather than any particular features or structures because it's specifically interested in seeing how evolution will go about doing it without deliberate direction from us.

While what we're interested in is the scalability of the tricks birds use to get more out of smaller brains (their greater neuron density etc).

So rather than selecting only for intelligence in our experiment we'll also be selecting for physical features such as brain topography (all those little pleats & folds) and a 2% body mass ratio to match the human brains with a target brain weight of 54g.

Skewed, Sep 08 2021

The Intelligent Mouse Project The_20Intelligent_20Mouse_20Project
[Skewed, Sep 08 2021]

Joscha Bach talks to Lex Friedman https://www.youtube...P-2P3MSZrBM&t=5725s
Joscha Bach talks about a wide range of things with a unique perspective on how our brains work. [zen_tom, Sep 09 2021]

Hens Brain Size https://www.science...i/S0032579120302133
[Skewed, Sep 09 2021]

Birds have primate-like numbers of neurons https://www.pnas.org/content/113/26/7255
[Skewed, Sep 09 2021]

A very confused parrot. https://www.youtube...watch?v=9T1vfsHYiKY
[Skewed, Sep 09 2021]

Stupider Chickens stupider_20chickens
[Voice, Sep 09 2021]

How to curcumscribe a cock. https://en.wikipedi...he_Headless_Chicken
[2 fries shy of a happy meal, Sep 09 2021]

Flight Muscle Contractility https://www.frontie...hys.2020.01038/full
[Skewed, Sep 10 2021]

Norm Macdonald: Professor of Logic https://www.youtube...watch?v=hh3TI3iMb1E
[zen_tom, Sep 15 2021]


       If a brain's function is to model the world such that the brain-host gets to predict and anticipate a complex environment, gaining advantage as it does so - then I think you have to tune your selection/reward process towards this metric, rather than just brain size/topology. I'm not convinced that breeding more "cauliflower" shaped brains is going to provide the benefits we're looking for.   

       But doing that is complicated, and depends on your definition of intelligence.   

       For some, consciousness is something that emerges from systems with enough intelligence - and is a symptom of a system trying to model other systems similar to itself - the system builds a model of what it is like to be a system like itself, and uses the data it gathers from the experience of that to help inform and predict what other systems might do under similar circumstances.   

       (This is a super interesting idea in-of itself - our perception of what it is like to be ourselves is merely a simulation our brain constructs so that it is better equipped to predict what other brains might be up to in the same environment)   

       So to some extent, the problem is (to pardon the pun) a chicken and egg problem. If having consciousness is a result of modelling other conscious entities, then developing such models requires other entities that the system is going to interact with (and therefore attempt to model), to already have consciousness themselves. And chickens (or mice) currently don't fit the bill.   

       If intelligence is about moving levers and solving ever-more-complicated puzzles to receive a prize, then I think the Intelligent Mouse Project just might work and you'd end up with a collection of super smart problem solvers - but until you encourage them to interact, form tribes and communities, lie, cheat and play games as a means to solve their problems, my intuition here is that they're going to remain uninteresting from a consciousness perspective, even if they have super convoluted, densely connected brain topologies.   

       In other words, I think you get the brain suited to the evolutionary problem - if that's (relatively) simple case of gathering nuts, then only a degree of intelligence is necessary, wheras if you're on the crest of an ever-evolving wave of 10,000 years of cultural evolution and need to process that in order to survive and reproduce, you're more likely to evolve the necessary. Of course, you're probably going to need 20+ years to become properly effective in such an environment, and so conducting such an experiment becomes impractical.   

       What you need is a way to encode some ongoing knowledge or culture into your experiment so that later generations have to onboard and transmit that additional data (language, rules, technology etc) but in a controlled environment with a generational- timescale much lower than 20 years. If you can kick-start that system, I think you'd be onto something.   

       Whether we'd be able to communicate with consciousnesses that inhabited such a system is another question entirely - it would certainly be a weird paper to peer-review.
zen_tom, Sep 08 2021

       Just place them on one side of a road and wait on the other side with your clipboard.
xenzag, Sep 08 2021

       I think your talking about 'what is intelligence' & 'how do we test for it' [zen]?   

       We don't really care what it is.   

       It's not the subject of this experiment so it doesn't matter.   

       As for how do we test for it we already have that covered.   

       We'll just subject them to the same developmental benchmark tests we do children & breed from those that do best.   

       All we're doing is selectively breeding brighter chickens to see if their greater neuron density will achieve human level intelligence with a smaller brain than ours, it's a very tight project objective.   

       We're just not interested in philosophy & all that other fluff :)
Skewed, Sep 08 2021

       I agree, I have zero interest in philosophy either, but knowing what a thing is isn't "fluff"! Especially if you're proposing a method for generating it. If your target objective is to answer that specific question, then I predict that the answer will be "no" for the reasons mentioned. You will likely have some very smart chickens capable of all manner of nut-retrieval tasks, but none will show "human level intelligence" except on some very narrow metric.
zen_tom, Sep 08 2021

       //Especially if you're proposing a method for generating it//   

       Very much my point, we're not, chickens already have intelligence, really small amounts but they have it.   

       This isn't an AI project to create intelligence from nothing (which your dissertation seems more suited to, to me) & there's little profit in comparing the two, when it comes to the question I want answered (can birds greater neural density achieve human-like intelligence with smaller brains than ours) none.   

       We're just breeding for more of something they already have.   

       Something already well defined (if not well understood) in human terms.   

       It's in human terms rather than any other that we want it & for the purpose of this experiment we don't need to understand it beyond their ability to succeed at the tasks we set them.   

       So most (or all?) of your anno is superfluous, interesting, but superfluous.
Skewed, Sep 08 2021

       What's your selection criteria? Looking at the work on crows/ravens etc. they pass tests that things like chickens don't. What we need is a test that the smarter chickens pass. What do you suggest? It needs to be high-throughput, fast and cheap. Later on things get trickier. As intelligence grows, the tests become longer and more granulated.
bs0u0155, Sep 08 2021

       //As intelligence grows, the tests become longer and more granulated//   

       Yep, probably starting with clicker training & similar that they are capable of, those who perform best & learn fastest would be the obvious criteria but we're open to suggestions.   

       When the first one gets a degree from Yale we can stick a fork in it & say we're done.   

       We'll have a chicken dinner to celebrate.
Skewed, Sep 08 2021

       Anyone who thinks they are smarter than a chicken is welcome to set up a camera and record themselves laying an egg.
xenzag, Sep 08 2021

       //And as it is in human terms rather than any other// if that's your perception, it was certainly not my intention - which was to be general, if specific. Much of the practical, non-philosophical thought about intelligence is based on empirical efforts in computer science, so maybe some of the language around that sounds "computery". But intelligence is still intelligence, even if it's tricky to define.   

       But testing for a thing, as other annos point out is tricky if you don't define that thing.   

       My dog is one year old, but she out-performs a one-year old baby on most intelligence tests I can think of. (Following commands, finding hidden treats, anticipating the movements of other creatures, making simple plans to carry out her intentions).   

       I don't think "Human Level Intelligence" is just a point on a linear scale that you can turn up to eleven. It's a very specific series of evolutionary adaptations that allow individual humans to process thousands of years of information (via stories, teachings and culture) into their survival strategies that would otherwise not be available via purely biological pathways (DNA etc) So to read symbols, parse them into concepts and use those to build internal mental models that can predict complex behaviours that have never been directly experienced by an individual are all very specifically human. Unless you include this kind of historical pathway for success in your experiment, you're not creating the evolutionary pathway for such functions to evolve.   

       Equally, given a nut-finding task, how would you design an incremental test that both a smart chicken and a human would pass, but a stupid chicken would fail?   

       But, if you believe that intelligence is just a simple sliding scale based on brain-mass/neural density (though I'd agree that these might be necessary, if not sufficient) then this might be an opportunity to demonstrate just that.   

       There are examples of "wet-ware" computers that use biological neural material to make decisions after being trained on data, but I think the sense there is that these are just machine learning techniques implemented in a non-standard infrastructure. This though is interesting because human intelligence allows people to make decisions not on statistical data, but via the abstract models they've learned about second-hand through their language and culture. (Demonstrating from the opposite direction what "human intelligence" is, and what it probably isn't.)   

       On an admittedly philosophical end-note, how intelligent would a human be if they had never been exposed to language or culture? How would you compose a test that this human would pass, that another creature would not? I think one reason why intelligence is so tricky to pin down is this symbiotic relationship between biological and cultural environments and adaptations. For humans, and by extension, human intelligence, the two have gone hand in hand for so long, they may well be impossible to decouple.
zen_tom, Sep 08 2021

       //tricky to define//   

       Not tricky at all. We'll be defining it by (comparative to humans) results. As I've been trying to tell you, for our purposes here we simply don't need to define it any further than that.   

       When they can get a basic high school qualification, a score of 100 or better on a normal adult IQ test & hold down an entry level desk job we'll say they're as intelligent as a person.   

       See what I mean by superfluous?   

       //When the first one gets a degree from Yale//   

       //We'll have a chicken dinner to celebrate//   

       How do you want yours?
Skewed, Sep 08 2021

       //See what I mean by superfluous?//   

       Yes, I'm beginning to.   

       So functionally, you need it to eventually process language, make abstractions, and build mental models both of things it experiences out in the world, but also of more conceptual things that it will never have direct experience of.   

       For these things to happen, it needs to be able to live through some kind of cultural developmental stage, go to school, have friends with other like-minded chickens so as to learn about inter-creature relations (nobody is going to employ an ill-mannered chicken who doesn't gel with the team) and develop the kinds of motivations we humans satisfy through the attainment of wealth through gainful employment (rather than, for example, simply scratching about for another juicy worm).   

       You can either provide these contextual/environmental things as and when they're necessary, like a great omniscient benefactor, or you can allow them to to evolve and emerge spontaneously. There is the problem of you ruthlessly murdering a percentage of the population each generation which they might, if all goes according to plan, start getting suss to.   

       Either way, in practice, I think some of that might end up being a tall-order.   

       /How do you want yours?//
Chicken katsu curry, over rice please.
zen_tom, Sep 08 2021

       //ruthlessly murdering a percentage of the population//   

       [Slightly worried guilty expression]   


       Well we thought we might just dump all the rejects on the Isle of Man & let them get on with it themselves.   

       [Bright shiny smile]   

       Just eating them would be unconscionable, of course.   

       [Carefully doesn't look at plate of drumsticks on table]   

       [Pushes plate slowly out of shot, still not looking at it]   

       [Bright shiny smile]   

       //might end up being a tall-order//   

       We'll probably have to knock it all on the head if we ever reach the three year old infant benchmark to be fair.   

       You know what all the bleeding heart types are like, they'll make a fuss if they ever get wind of it at that point.
Skewed, Sep 08 2021

       Without defining anything, the process results in the monkey typing exercise and infinite time. By trying to defining 'the fluff', insights to short cuts to training/tests become apparent.
wjt, Sep 09 2021

       Might I suggest starting with something other than chickens? We have some, and they frequently astound me with their stupidity. I assume it's because we've bred any intelligence out of them. The "smart" ones escape and get eaten. I wouldn't count on chickens having whatever brain density advantage that most birds have.   

       On the other hand, creating an environment for any of the intelligent birds will be quite challenging, whereas with chickens, if you could create a peck screen interface and partner with a traditional caged egg laying operation, you could roll it out on a massive scale for a relatively low cost.
scad mientist, Sep 09 2021

       //For some, consciousness [...] is a symptom of a system trying to model other systems similar to itself //   

       No offense to you, [zen_tom], but that is a terrible, terrible idea, and I'm disturbed to see it still in circulation. Can you provide any links to recent sources for it?
pertinax, Sep 09 2021

       No offence taken [pertinax] it's an idea I heard from listening to cognitive scientist Joscha Bach, it resonates quite well with me anyway, evidently you're not of the same opinion. I am sure it would be interesting to learn why you're so vehemently opposed to the idea.   

       It's also an idea not a million miles from those explored at length by Douglas Hofstadter in various of his books. It fits very well much within the "Strange Loop" context that he sets out.
zen_tom, Sep 09 2021

       //wouldn't count on chickens having whatever brain density advantage that most birds have//   

       They do I'm sure, we should maybe check b4 starting but as it's likely an adaption of birds for flight (to cut weight) it would be surprising if they didn't.   

       They have pretty small brains <link> only 2.4- 3.9g compared to a Ravens 15g brain but we'll bulk that up by selective breeding as part of the project, the ease of bulk breeding should more than make up for the poor starting material & ultimately result in a much shorter project lifespan beginning to end, we can of course select for neuron density as well, they'll have the same 'tools' as other birds in their genome for that so given time we should be able to get it up to Raven levels in their forebrain if it isn't already (I'm guessing it's not).   

       I expect they have better neuron density than mammals (but in a much much smaller teeny tiny brain of course), but I'd guess their neuron density might not be as good as a Ravens.   

       Here <link> ("Birds have..") this study included chicken brains & they make no mention I can see of chickens being surprisingly unusual in not having this adaption that other birds do.   

       From that study: "We found that the bird brains have more neurons than mammalian brains and even primate brains of similar mass" & also, in specific reference to results from "red junglefowl" (aka a chicken), they say "Thus, high neuronal density in the telencephalon appears characteristic of all birds"
Skewed, Sep 09 2021

       Thank you for telling me where you heard it, [zen_tom].   

       To understand the origins of the idea, (and hence the reason for my hostility to it), we have to go back to the state of psychology in the mid-twentieth century, when the field was dominated by psychoanalysts.   

       Hang on; I have to go and do some other things now: I may be able to expand on that later.
pertinax, Sep 09 2021

       We did try other species.   

       The Kakapo seemed like a good idea because it can't fly & is really quite friendly <link>   

       Success was limited, no eggs you see & there's not a lot of them left anyway, was getting difficult to smuggle them out too.   

       So we dropped the hybridisation efforts & switched to chickens.
Skewed, Sep 09 2021

       //I'm not convinced that breeding more "cauliflower" shaped brains is going to provide the benefits we're looking for. //   

       Even if it doesn't it's sure to give us something scientific and culturally interesting.
Voice, Sep 09 2021

       We should also try breeding for purely larger brains regardless of intelligence. I'm sure we can get chickens with relatively titanic brains in a relatively short time and learn something from that. Actually I honestly think that would be a worthy study.
Voice, Sep 09 2021

       ...and yet living headless chickens might be the way to go.
Meet Mike the headless chicken.

       [linkier link]   

       //breeding for purely larger brains regardless of intelligence// //would be a worthy study//   

       Of course, though it's largely built into this one anyway, we'll be measuring for neuron density, brain size (regardless of neuron density) & brain to body weight ratios to select for them in the breeding program as well as testing for intelligence thus providing (with others) the data sets you'd be looking for with a pure brain size study, I'd expect it to prove neuron count (particularly in the forebrain) rather than overall brain size or brain to body weight ratio as the pertinent factor for intelligence & help determine a maximum neuron density.
Skewed, Sep 10 2021

       //My dog is one year old, but she out-performs a one-year old baby on most intelligence tests I can think of.//   

       That's because the dog is essentially complete, it's still got far too much juvenile energy but it's more or less an adult. The human is 10-19 years away from that point, the brain is just about getting the hang of moving about and handling the firehose of information that the eyes provide.   

       I wonder if longevity is a necessity in the biological intelligence game? All the intelligent creatures are relatively long lived: Ravens, dolphins, us, chimps, elephants etc. Are there exceptions to this? Is there a mayfly that gets to the intelligence of a cat in a week? Is there a maximum rate at which neurons can grow a functional network?   

       Actually, separate those, is there a maximum neuron growth rate? Yes, growing billions of them takes time, although the largest cells in the world are neurons in things like the sciatic nerves in blue whales that clearly grow at a tremendous rate in absolute terms.   

       Is there a maximum rate at which a functional network can be assembled? This looks like it might be the main problem. It seems to take many months to years to develop the sort of intelligence we're talking about. That process is essentially expose to stimulus>wait for the brain network to respond looks like it's reasonably fixed in terms of speed - at least within a factor of 10 or so.   

       So while chickens might be long-lived enough, and you could breed them to be more intelligent, I expect that they would just have longer and longer juvenile stages.   

       //bird brains have more neurons than mammalian brains and even primate brains of similar mass//   

       There will be a reason. It's not like mammals are just wastefully filling the brain with non-neuron cells. There's tremendous selective pressure on brain volume in humans, we have huge heads that are only just able to fit during birth, then they keep expanding afterwards. Those non-neuron cells are doing stuff, stuff we're still working out, like physical and metabolic support for the prima- donna neurons. As brain size increases, it's probably that the support network increases disproportionately, and unavoidably. I wonder if the 40C body temperature of birds helps in this at all?
bs0u0155, Sep 10 2021

       //There will be a reason//   

       Of course there will, & it will be flight .. lighter is easier & that was pretty obviously the driving factor for natural selection of lighter brains in birds the same as it was for their hollow bones, I would be unsurprised to find that there are reasons it won't scale indefinitely, for a start there's going to be a absolute limit for how small you can make a neuron & how tightly you can pack them, there may perhaps be cooling issues with all those neurons sparking away that cause problems in larger brains than any birds have.   

       I'd like the answers to those questions & this project should help get them.
Skewed, Sep 10 2021

       //I wonder if longevity is a necessity in the biological intelligence game?//   

       [Makes a note to include the chickens ages in all the collected data sets]   

       We'll let you know when we're done.
Skewed, Sep 10 2021

       // there may perhaps be cooling issues with all those neurons sparking away that cause problems in larger brains.//   

       That's been solved. But you're astute to identify that it should be a problem. The brain is water (blood) cooled, and the relative amount of blood vessels has to increase with brain size. Then there's the metabolic tricks: by running on largely glucose>lactate neurons offload the heat generating part of metabolism to the mitochondria in the liver (and glia etc.). By minimizing the amount and utilization of mitochondria, neurons likely minimize the damage associated with high-energy O2 reactions. But, neurodegenerative disorders almost always feature malfunctioning mitochondria, so there're very much needed.   

       I wonder if stepping up temperature might be a way to go, just going from mammalian 37C to bird 40C gets you a ~5% increase in diffusion of most of the important ions & molecules.
bs0u0155, Sep 10 2021

       //flight// //the driving factor for natural selection of lighter brains in birds// //as it was for their hollow bones//   

       I'd be unsurprised to find they've developed similar advantages for muscles as well .. another study perhaps, if there isn't already work out there on that.
Skewed, Sep 10 2021

       //if there isn't already work out there on that//   

       There is, some at least <link> (Evolution of Flight Muscle Contractility and Energetic Efficiency)
Skewed, Sep 10 2021

       //they've developed similar advantages for muscles as well//   

       Not really. Again, there's a lot of selective pressure on muscle in, I assume, all species. They recycle a lot of the same tricks, but there's no getting away from the fundamentals. Muscle contraction requires actin/myosin which requires Ca2+ and ATP to cycle. Those require mitochondria burning fuel in oxygen. You can move things around in time and different parts of the anatomy, but you need what you need. Bats fly, and their muscle is indistinguishable from rat muscle, they don't have most of the bird tricks either, bones are standard.   

       The extremes get interesting. Really fast muscles have to pull some strange tricks. Rattlesnake rattle muscles (~70Hz) & Cicadas (150+Hz) have to swap out most of the actin/myosin force producing stuff and cram in Ca2+ & ATP machinery (SR & mitochondria).   

       Bees are nuts, they flap their wings over 200Hz, which is faster than neurons can operate, meaning they have no control over the frequency, they just turn the wings on & off. The muscles seem dependent on stretch activation, the upper muscles stretch the lower, which contract, stretching the upper etc. which sets up an oscillation of a relatively fixed frequency. There's a whole lot we don't know about how that works.
bs0u0155, Sep 10 2021

       //cooling issues// //That's been solved//   

       Solved may not be quite the right word? it's been Identified as a (very) probable issue certainly & I'm sure there are papers that offer theories on what & where the limits it imposes are.   

       But I don't know as there have been any actual practical studies to positively locate (define?) & prove those limits?
Skewed, Sep 10 2021

       What I was getting at, was that nature has solved the problem, or worked around it at least.
bs0u0155, Sep 10 2021

       Those poultry farms are on a large scale. At least we can eat the genetic losers.   

       Any pâté-like recipes for the excess in chicken brains?
wjt, Sep 15 2021

       //Bees are nuts//   

       If nuts are also bees, we could have a new recipe for nougat.
pertinax, Sep 15 2021

       But peanuts are not nuts. Therefore, by the operation of logic, bees are not peanuts.
pocmloc, Sep 15 2021

       // by the operation of logic, bees are not peanuts// That reminds me of the Norm Macdonald (R.I.P.) joke about the professor of Logic at the University of Science (the telling of which [link] coincidentally features chicken)
zen_tom, Sep 15 2021

       [Pertinax] Can you follow up on our comment about why the idea in [zem_tom]'s annotation is a // terrible, terrible idea //. I'm not saying I agree with the idea, but it sounds like an interesting hypothesis about consciousness, and I don't see right off why that idea could be considered terrible. Based on the brief start of your comment, I wonder if this idea was used as part of an excuse for some inhumane treatment of mental patients?
scad mientist, Sep 15 2021

       [scad_mientist], I took that discussion with [zen] to email, because it is off-topic, complex and likely controversial. But, yes, mistreatment of mental patients is part of it, but also only the tip of an iceberg. You can find my email thinly disguised on my profile page, if you don't mind listening to me whinge and rant about it, but I thought best to keep it off this comment thread, and maybe of the HB altogether.
pertinax, Sep 15 2021

       I called a man a bird brain once. Strange that he took offense to it given their neuron density.   

       Bees must somehow interject some level of control by queueing up a neuron or 3 that get on the CAN bus and interrupt or slow the process a bit.
RayfordSteele, Sep 16 2021

       ^Auxillary muscles might just move the oscillating wing into a strained position that slows up the back and forth allowing nerves to get some messages in.   

       Though, it's the right way around, right?. It's ok for the effector to be superspeed rather than have the controller superspeed and a slow effector missing calls.
wjt, Sep 21 2021


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