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Earth Science

Scientists Teach Bees How To Play Soccer (smithsonianmag.com) 75

Clint Perry, a biologist who studies the evolution of cognition in insects at Queen Mary University of London, and his colleagues have released the results of a creative new experiment in which they essentially taught bumblebees how to play "bee soccer." "The insects' ability to grasp this novel task is a big score for insect intelligence, demonstrating that they're even more complex thinkers than we thought," reports Smithsonian. From the report: For the study, published in the February 23 issue of Science, researchers gave a group of bees a novel goal (literally): to move a ball about half their size into a designated target area. The idea was to present them with a task that they would never have encountered in nature. Not only did the bees succeed at this challenge -- earning them a sugary treat -- but they astonished researchers by figuring out how to meet their new goal in several different ways. Some bees succeeded at getting their ball into the goal with no demonstration at all, or by first watching the ball move on its own. But the ones that watched other bees successfully complete the game learned to play more quickly and easily. Most impressively, the insects didn't simply copy each other -- they watched their companions do it, then figured out on their own how to accomplish the task even more efficiently using their own techniques. The results show that bees can master complex, social behaviors without any prior experience -- which could be a boon in a world where they face vast ecological changes and pressures.
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Scientists Teach Bees How To Play Soccer

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 25, 2017 @03:09AM (#53927959)

    FIFA 2010 World Cup.

    BZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  • by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedyNO@SPAMtpno-co.org> on Saturday February 25, 2017 @03:34AM (#53928001) Homepage

    Man, my high school career councilor has a lot to answer for. Had I known I could be teaching bees how to play soccer, I'd have actually focused on my grades...or indeed, shown up.

    But no, he was always like, "Stop drinking that" or "why are you at my house at 2am?" or perhaps most amusingly, "You can't be here, I have a restraining order".

    He was a bit of a kidder.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      The problem is that all these attempts to interest kids in STEM are so earnest and dull.

      What we should be doing is tempting them with mad science. You see? It's not all death rays and monkey testicle implants.

      It's important to hook them by middle school, when the all important sense of being misunderstood is its keenest.

  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Saturday February 25, 2017 @04:03AM (#53928039)

    Is it repeatable?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You'll need some bees. Bad news, geek. You can't torrent bees, and 3D printed bees aren't good enough.

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        Not just bees, bumble bees. You'd think it would be honey bees that went in for team sports.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      As in, league matches?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, it's very likely to be repeatable. They used different scenarios. One group got taught by using a dummy. Another one by using the ball magentically. Yet another group didn't get shown, and even in that group there were some to figure out how to get to the treat.

      In one instance they even swapped the color of the ball and the ones that got taught via a dummy, even improved the method they got shown - the dummy pushed the ball, the bumblebees started dragging the ball.

      I recommend reading the paper; it's q

  • by dohzer ( 867770 ) on Saturday February 25, 2017 @04:29AM (#53928067) Homepage

    Did they teach them how to dive for free kicks?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not yet, but I heard an Italian biologist is now trying to replicate the study, so it's only a matter of time.

  • No no no!!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by codeButcher ( 223668 ) on Saturday February 25, 2017 @04:56AM (#53928103)

    Now we are going to have even more bees not pollinating plants, but sitting on couches, drinking beer, and hollering at the telly...

  • Vuvuzelas (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Finally vuvuzelas will be appropriate at soccer matches.

  • by Artem Tashkinov ( 764309 ) on Saturday February 25, 2017 @06:16AM (#53928225)

    This whole story makes me think: bumblebees have very primitive, simple brains, with comparatively few neurons (I've heard reports which mention one million) yet they master the task which seems impossible for any "AI" invented to this day. I've got a feeling a modern CPU with 4 billion transistors running at 4GHz (at least 4 million times faster than brains in nature which work at up to 1000Hz a second) and having 128GB of RAM can easily replicate all the processes running in the bumblebee's brain yet no one is doing that to the best of my knowledge.

    What's more I've heard that even extremely primitive earthworms show signs of intelligence [realclearscience.com] yet we cannot recreate their AI. That makes me feel true or general AI is still nowhere close and all this talk about "AI", is really a talk about smart algorithms which cannot reason or create (new solutions, new behavioral patterns, new ideas, new concepts) which is the staple of any true intelligent entity.

    • can easily replicate all the processes running in the bumblebee's brain

      If bumblebee brains had process management, you might have a point. But they don't. They don't even have well-ordered control flow. Neither do we.

    • by jdagius ( 589920 ) on Saturday February 25, 2017 @08:28AM (#53928399)

      @Tashkinov
      Khorosho skazano.
      The problem is that our so-called 'modern' CPUs can only do exactly what they're programmed to do. Yes, they can perform incredibly complex calculations, such as pattern search and recognition, many orders of magnitude faster than humans. But that's not really the same kind of 'intelligence' that we can clearly see in the behavior of living creatures.

      The behavior of CPUs is deterministic, i.e. tend to produce the same output, for a given set of inputs. Biological creatures, OTOH, tend to behave non-deterministically, that is their behaviors, given identical inputs, tend to produce varying sets of output behaviors, with ranges of variances that are difficult to predict.

      Nature itself is only partially predictable. (We like to call the part we can't predict "noise".) So the behavior of electro-mechanical robots is very noisy because robots must process noisy sensor data using deterministic methods. Their programs merely react to input, so the humans who write their programs must somehow 'teach' them how to anticipate and react to all possible input scenarios. Which of course is computationally intractable, even for a planet-sized digital computer.

      So, mathematically, robots are modeled as servomechanisms, which can operate automatically (more or less) by measuring responses received on their sensors and applying a kind of negative-feedback to reduce the variance of possible behaviors caused by 'recognizing noise' in a non-deterministic world.

      We living creatures are much better at this kind of 'automatic behavior' because we are intrinsically non-deterministic machines, whose behaviors don't always 'make sense', but get us, sometimes, to some desired goals, more effectively and efficiently than simple 'random' behavior.

      I believe there is a 'Life Principle', which is not yet fully understood, that makes this possible, by imbuing living creatures with mechanisms for consciousness (self-awareness) and motivation (desires and fears). So living creatures tend to have real-time 'situational awareness', which allows them, in effect, to connect to reality and understand and react to the world in terms of their own fears and desires. More or less.

      Humans seem to have a lot of this kind of intelligence. Bumblebees not as much. But even the humblest earthworm seems to perceive a buzz of reality which helps them find the dark moist places they love (and avoid the dry, prickly places they fear). Digital computers perform more poorly in these simple reality tasks. (But can compute Pi to a million places easily!)

      Will humans be able to build robots with this same kind of Life Principle? I think so, but first we have to study biological life more and actually figure out how it works, up to understanding how consciousness, fear, love and hate operate at a microscopic level.

      Currently we can't even draw the simplest circuit diagram for 'consciousness', or build any simple device that 'understands' reality like we (think) we do.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The problem is that people are asking the computer to "solve" the wrong thing and -Gary tee- a result. If you create a system of loose feedback loops and outcome based annealing then you can infact get these types of behavior simulated in computers you just also can't -garuntee- results. That's why most "advanced AIs" are basically black boxes functionally speaking.

        What we need now is small networks of simple annealed AIs connected with interspersed feedback. I garuntee you'll start to see this stuff in th

      • Biological creatures, OTOH, tend to behave non-deterministically, that is their behaviors, given identical inputs, tend to produce varying sets of output behaviors

        Care to produce any evidence to back that up?

        Which is more likely: that the system under investigation is non-deterministic, or that your model of it doesn't capture the entire state, or all of the inputs, or both?

        I'm aware that various arguments for the non-determinism of either the CNS or the mind (depending on the of abstraction the arguer prefers) have been advanced, for example by Penrose. I don't find Penrose's position compelling (or even mildly persuasive), but at least it's more sophisticated than

    • Well, they have been under QA for what, 120 million years? [wikipedia.org]

      And every time a defect was and fixed it created a different set of defects. So QA kept forking the source branch and running tests on all branches. Until some branches were clearly showing no improvement, which were pruned. But all branches that still had some hope were kept alive and kept in the test bench.

      With our modern billions of transistors, running at several GHz, we might be able to get there 10 or even 100 times faster. So check back

    • Researchers are finding that neurons are not simple computational units but rather a network of computational units (e.g. dendrites performing pattern matching and filtering, multiple independent signalling, etc.). A lot more is going on at a lower level than previously thought (as is usually the case).
    • Funny you mention worms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSv581S8HVM [youtube.com]. Here's another video showing it off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWQnzylhgHc [youtube.com].

      We're still a long way away from understanding this well enough to do anything really crazy, but we're starting to get a grasp of how it works.
    • This whole story makes me think: bumblebees have very primitive, simple brains, with comparatively few neurons (I've heard reports which mention one million)

      This seems to make them perfectly suitable to play the sport of soccer.

  • Is it still in time for the ignobel awards?

  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Saturday February 25, 2017 @09:22AM (#53928525)
    Get the bees watching half naked, painted up and drunk and see if it really does help the bees on the field.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Saturday February 25, 2017 @09:37AM (#53928573) Journal

    Most impressively, the insects didn't simply copy each other -- they watched their companions do it, then figured out on their own how to accomplish the task even more efficiently using their own techniques.

    This has spawned a new theory that the bees are Japanese.

  • by fygment ( 444210 ) on Saturday February 25, 2017 @10:03AM (#53928657)

    More proof that biology is not science. The persistent underestimation of where life can exist, how intelligent various form of life are, questions of feeling pain or emotion ... it just signals that biology is nothing more than an observational practice with no first principles and deeply flawed fundamental assumptions about almost every aspect of the field.

    • Some of it is just good old stubbornness (heavier than air flying machines will never be possible!) and some of it is just having to overcome the assumptions based on, let's face it, manifest destiny. We can do whatever we want to those animals, because God gave them to us, and we'll make up any excuses necessary to justify it.

    • This is definitely one of the more hilariously misguided understandings of scientific epistemology that I've seen lately. Thanks!

  • Wouldn't want to be the ref for a match like this. "Red card -- AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

  • ...Because they can.

  • "Bees??? No! BEADS!"

  • Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling nearly managed this several years ago. Here is the proof: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
  • > demonstrating that they're even more complex thinkers than we thought,"

    If you think the only things that exist are the ones we've been able to prove exist, then you're not a very good scientist.

    Occam's Razor isn't a scientific device. It's a philosophical one. In the year 1000, Occam's Razor would have suggested the world was flat. It fulfills most or all of people's expectations, based on human knowledge and logic, discovered up till that point. And yet all of human history screams that we are still l

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Possibly in the year 1000 BCE Occam's Razor would have suggested the world was flat, but not since Aristarchus. Unless you map "I don't know, I haven't looked" onto "there's no evidence".

  • This is excellent news. Because bees die shortly after fouling, this greatly reduces the opportunity for controversial calls by the referees. At last we can have truly reliable football matches.

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