It’s summer, it’s hot, I’m in Turkey doing some writing—surrounded by some very pushy cats and startlingly clever Jaybirds.
I got to thinking about non-human intelligence again (a big theme in my books).
Forget about aliens, we already see non-human culture and technology.
Animals are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. We know they are capable of using tools. Some even pass new knowledge onto their offspring and colleagues—technically, this is culture.
In my writing, the ‘BugNet’ allows animals to interact economically with humans. It’s Science Fiction, but it might not be as far off as we think…
I recently read about a group of scientists watching as a population of crows learned to use paper money to purchase treats from a vending machine!
The idea of their study was to see if birds could be incentivized to adapt to a completely new situation. The guinea pigs (flying guinea pigs) in this case were a murder of crows on a small south pacific island. They had already demonstrated they were able to make and use tools to snag bugs out of holes. In this experiment, they were presented with a vending machine and given some spending money. These very special birds quickly learnt that by inserting pieces of paper into the machine they could buy themselves lunch. Going further, when they were given notes which were too big, the crows were able to tear the larger denominations to match the advertised price.
In Siguarity’s Children I have a sequence where a trapped super-AI uses incentives and rewards to enlist wild animals to help it escape. Some of my early readers expressed scepticism that this might be a stretch, but here we have animals using tools, adapting to novel scenarios, and innovating on the fly (no pun intended). This is the same set of skills we might hope to find in a bright human being!
Imagine, if Instead of birds behaving this way, we’d found slug-beasts on another planet, or a population of zeno-chaete swarming beneath the ice of some Galilean moon! We’d be flipping out!
“Our difficulties in understanding or effectuating communication with other animals may arise from our reluctance to grasp unfamiliar ways of dealing with the world.”
― Carl Sagan
Let me know your own examples (or YouTube videos) of animals being unusually smart. I might include them in my upcoming book which (starts under the crust of an ice-moon).
If you want to read more about smart critters working within the human economy to build a better world… check out my Science Fiction!
Cheers, have a good summer!