Aug 31, 2022

Monthly Media Notes - TWCF Grantees in the News - August 2022

Three recent stories featuring Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) grantees in the news

By Templeton Staff

1. Reviving a Nearly Lost Tree

The Washington Post covers SUNY-ESF's American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project, featuring TWCF grantee William A. Powell.

“We’re making a path for saving other tree species, and it might even go beyond trees,” said Bill Powell

After an exotic fungus nearly drove American chestnut trees out of existence, researchers at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) has successfully engineered a blight-resistant American chestnut. Researchers are ready to broadly use the modified pollen, but they need approval from three federal agencies. “I always say this is a century project. It’s going to take the general public wanting to plant these trees,” said Powell.

2. AI Is Not Sentient. Why Do People Say It Is?

Thoughts from two TWCF grantees,  Colin Allen and Alison Gopnik, were included in The New York Times' article on the current state of artificial intelligence.

"There is no evidence this technology is sentient or conscious — two words that describe an awareness of the surrounding world. That goes for even the simplest form you might find in a worm," said Colin Allen, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who explores cognitive skills in both animals and machines. “The dialogue generated by large language models does not provide evidence of the kind of sentience that even very primitive animals likely possess,” he said.

Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology who is part of the AI research group at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed. “The computational capacities of current AI like the large language models,” she said, “don’t make it any more likely that they are sentient than that rocks or other machines are.” She continues, “We call it ‘artificial intelligence,’ but a better name might be ‘extracting statistical patterns from large data sets.’” 

3. Dolphin Strangers Met in the Bahamas. Things Went Swimmingly.

An article in The New York Times reported on research involving the social bonds of Atlantic spotted dolphins, featuring TWCF grantee Denise Herzing of the Wild Dolphin Project.

In 2013, a group of 52 Atlantic spotted dolphins, driven to migrate by unknown forces, left their home on the Little Bahama Bank and traveled 100 miles south to the island chain of Bimini, a destination already inhabited by a community of 120 Atlantic spotted dolphins. Two different research teams, one of which is led by Denise Herzing, are studying this rare occurrence. Their work is uncovering new clues about how dolphins organize their complex societies.