First Watson, and now elephants

The human species was already down in the dumps after IBM’s Watson computer defeated humanity’s greatest Jeopardy! champions. Now comes news that elephants are out-thinking our top scientists:

Elephants recently aced a test of their intelligence and ability to cooperate, with two of them even figuring out ways that the researchers hadn’t previously considered to obtain food rewards….

Two elephants, named Neua Un and JoJo, even figured out how to outwit the researchers.

“We were pleasantly surprised to see the youngest elephant, Neua Un, use her foot to hold the rope so that her partner had to do all the work,” Plotnik said. “I hadn’t thought about this beforehand, and Neua Un seemed to figure it out by chance, but it speaks volumes to the flexibility of elephant behavior that she was able to figure this out and stick to it.”

The other “cheater,” JoJo, didn’t even bother to walk up to the volleyball net unless his partner, Wanalee, was released.

“Perhaps he had learned that if he approached the rope without her, he’d fail,” Plotnik said, adding that such advanced learning, problem-solving, and cooperation are rare in the animal kingdom.

Elephants have long been my favorite animals. It’s no coincidence elephants (and dolphins) are — like us — incredibly social, emotional, and intelligent. These traits have evolved together in several unrelated branches of the tree of life.

Posted by James on Friday, March 11, 2011