18 May 2012

Proceedings of the Royal Society: “Cooperation and the evolution of intelligence”

Additionally, although kin selection is still of importance in highly intelligent taxa, high relatedness may hinder the evolution of intelligence by driving unconditional cooperation to fixation in the population, without any need of contingent behaviours.
A trait as complex as advanced intelligence is likely to have evolved owing to a combination of several factors rather than a single factor [4]. Along with the social intelligence hypothesis, many other theories attempting to explain the evolution of advanced intelligence have been suggested, among them that intelligence is an adaptation for tool use [53,54], that intelligence is an adaptation for social learning and the accumulation of culture [5557], and that intelligence is the result of sexual selection [58]. All of these theories are supported by evidence from at least some of the most intelligent animals. However, the difficulty lies in disentangling the traits that are causal factors in the evolution of intelligence from those that are by-products of advanced intelligence. Luke McNally, Sam P. Brown and Andrew L. Jackson

Fascinating study, if a bit too technical, about the emergence of intelligence. Unlike the birth of the Universe and even the origin of life, it remains a largely uncharted area of scientific research. There are many hypothesis but few scientifically verifiable facts. And unfortunately the experimental method is not really an option. This study tries to simulate group behavior in by applying game theory repeatedly, to see if the simulated individuals evolve towards greater intelligence, meaning better strategies for cooperation. The setup is over-simplified, but, hey, you have to start somewhere!

The results are interesting, with complex patterns emerging. I was most interested in the first paragraph above, found towards the end, in the conclusions; it resembles my own views about a science-fiction novel I have recently read, namely intelligence is more likely to develop in larger, mixed groups, than in small ones, where the members are already inclined to cooperate by their family ties. Without a better understanding of the origin of human intelligence, it seems unlikely we will be able to create artificial ones.

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