STATES CHRONICLE – Nature is, regardless of anyone’s set of beliefs, the best teacher ever. This is mainly owed to one simple fact – if you fail to learn what nature is attempting to teach you, you’ll be out of the picture in a few generations. But if you do end up learning, you’re in for a great, adaptable future.
I’m talking, of course, about the process of evolution. It’s one of the simplest, yet most complicated processes out there. It’s simple as a concept, as adaptability equals ‘in’ and inadaptability equals ‘out’, but the entire process is one we’re still studying and scientists are still left baffled by it in some cases.
For example, according to a new study from France’s Toulouse University, slime molds can learn without a brain. But here is the main question underlying the entire study – when can we say that something is intelligent? How sophisticated does problem solving have to get before we consider something sentient?
Before we delve into philosophy and into the same realm explored by artificial intelligence developers for years, let’s see what exactly slime molds are and how they can learn and solve problems on their own. The experiment was pretty simple, and it even went for multiple approaches so as to ensure that its results are accurate.
Slime molds are simply several species of mold that are informally referred to as such. They used to be considered fungi, but more recent research led scientists to realize that what they were dealing with was in fact several species of mold. But even before that, scientists have been speculating that they are intelligent.
The current experiment that proved more or less without any doubt that the slime molds can in fact solve problems was very simple. A maze was set up with slime mold at one end and with food at the other end. Throughout the maze, there were two “bridges” laced with two substances – caffeine and quinine.
Harmless on their own, at least in small quantities, the chemicals did taste pretty bad to the resourceful slime molds. So, as the mold reached the two bridges, it stopped its advancement, even recoiling to some degree. But as it found no way to get around the bridges, the mold started experimenting.
After prodding the chemical-laced surfaces a few times, for increasingly longer periods of time, and determining that they weren’t toxic and that they just tasted bad, the slime molds simply started growing over the “bridges” and made their way to the food without stopping for any more of the patches.
Subsequent tests were performed with slime molds accustomed to one of the two chemicals and then exposed to the other one. It similarly learned that the chemical with which they were currently interacting was also harmless. This again sparks the debate of what can be considered as ‘intelligent’, but that is a subject for another time.
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