A recent confluence of stories in the BAM intelligence feeds prompt musings about animal intelligence beyond what mere mortals can show, given sensory advantages that animals possess that could inspire their own advances in pattern recognition. Humans have evolved visual capabilities that have inspired advances in the arts and sciences that underpin much of what we ascribe to intelligence, but humanity does not reign supreme across all the senses. It may well transpire that animal smarts have not been credited where they were based on data from senses in which people are underpowered and thus incapable of processing data they cannot gather.
Just in the last day, the Internet has turned up this story about canine intelligence, and the fact that dogs possess 40 times the olfactory receptors that humans possess. This enables them to detect when blood sugar levels in diabetics are dropping to dangerous levels; they can recognise changes in human odours ahead of death; and dogs are showing increasing success in detecting prostate and bladder cancer. Not to be outdone, it seems that dolphins are similarly blessed with their hearing, having one auditory region in the brain for echolocation and another for the communication of pulses and whistles. These two sound channels are processed together with their visual signals in ways that human beings can only wonder at.
A third story reporting on a brain-computer interface involving monkeys leads to (at least) two intriguing questions. If there is a future in knowledge processing based on data gathered from senses we do possess, could this future embrace animals and data from senses that they possess but we do not? And if simian neural networking has a future, might this be the key to the emergence at last of “Son of Hamlet”?