A World Alive with Brilliance
Templeton World Charity Foundation, Inc., was established by Sir John Templeton in Nassau to carry out his philanthropic aims on a truly global basis. Our mission is to find the world’s best minds and promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in a wide range of fields, including those of the animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts from around the globe to support the Diverse Intelligences program and develop projects of the highest caliber to advance our understanding and comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.
The Initiative is Focused on Three Challenges
Beyond the Turing Test: Elucidating the similarities and differences between machine and biological intelligences
The Turing test has become a popular concept for exploring whether machine intelligence can rival that of humans. Seventy years since Turing’s paper, a myriad of discoveries of animal (including human) intelligence call for a more nuanced understanding of this concept. Our challenge is to develop a unified explanatory description of the similarities and differences between animal and machine intelligence. Read more
The Brilliance of the Living World
The living world is alight with bright sparks of intelligence. They form a brilliant constellation of differences and capacities that remain largely unexplored. Our challenge is to expand outward from human experience to find other ways of knowing, experiencing, and flourishing that will inform and enliven our own. Read more
Morality in the Machine Age: Keeping Humans in the Loop
Human moral capacities need not be diminished by new technologies and the ‘machine age’ need not be a period of sinister, controlling algorithms. Our goal is to support new systems for human-machine interactions that will provide tools to empower human moral intelligence, enhance our ethical capacities, and propel human spiritual betterment. Read more
Diverse Intelligences Grants
How intelligent are non-human animals? Answering this question requires finding a way quantify and compare intelligence among diverse species. Dr. Andrew Barron’s project endeavors to develop such a method. By studying how rats, mice, and bees learn and adapt their attention while learning, it will produce new insights into intelligences across the tree of life.
What can organisms without brains teach us about animal intelligence? We often equate intelligence with having a brain, but more and more evidence shows that organisms—including humans—can make decisions without involving the brain. By comparing decision-making in plants and slime moulds to animals, Madeleine Beekman (University of Sydney) is paving the way for understanding what gives brainy organisms distinctive forms of intelligence.
Research has shown that some species show collective intelligence, where group members make joint decisions as a single cognitive unit. But many questions remain: How does collective intelligence shape individual intelligence? And can it can act as a cultural process, allowing groups to improve themselves by building upon accumulated knowledge? Oxford University’s Dr. Dora Biro seeks to answer these questions in this groundbreaking project.
The goal of many meditative traditions is “pure consciousness”—an emptying of the mind to achieve greater awareness. At first blush, such a state seems contrary to scientific definitions of intelligence but an intriguing new theory posits that consciousness is more than just information processing. By studying meditative states, Dr. Melanie Boly challenges popular notions of intelligence.
What can we learn about self-awareness from baboons? The long-established test of self-awareness is the mirror test, which some socially intelligent primates do not pass. But such tests have often been challenged for their limitations and flaws. By using new, interdisciplinary approaches, Dr. Alecia Carter will search the mind of baboons for another kind of self-awareness—social self-awareness—that conventional tests fail to capture.
One ape offers an item to another—then snatches it away at the last second. And then repeats this again and again, all in good fun. Do the apes playing this game find it funny, even joyful? Humor is an elusive phenomenon, and its nature is the source of much debate. By observing ape behaviors, Erica Cartmill seeks to understand the ways humor might manifest itself in the diverse intelligences that fill our planet.
While there are many different models of neural function, it has sometimes been difficult to compare and interconnect them. Jonathan Cohen’s team has constructed a new computational platform that will enable researchers to integrate knowledge gained about brain subsystems (responsible for domain-specific forms of intelligence) and to build system-level overviews that can be easily disseminated and validated through laboratory studies.
If you look up “intelligence” in the thesaurus, you’ll find “rational” listed near the top of the entry. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio (University of Southern California) wants to broaden that narrow definition. His project seeks to widen the conception of intelligence by researching affect: the emotional and feeling processes that help us make life’s fundamental decisions.
Empathy is crucial for the potential to thrive in complex social environments. Many animals display empathy towards each other. But it remains a difficult concept to study and measure, and many questions remain unresolved. World-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal seeks answers to those questions by researching chimpanzees and bonobos, and the gender differences within each species.
Creating imaginary mental scenes is one of the human mind’s masterstrokes. Our ability to dream drives innovation and invention. Can nonhuman animals also conceive of imaginary scenarios? Answering this question requires a bold approach like the one adopted by Francine Dolins, who is using virtual reality to explore how imagination and creativity shape primates’ construction of reality.
The study of animal communication challenges our ideas of intelligence and informs our search for life in the universe. Among the most fascinating of vocalizations are the songs and sounds of humpback whales, the subject of Dr. Laurance Doyle’s project. By studying these loquacious creatures, he aims to uncover the vast wellsprings of communications that exist throughout the earth—and even beyond.
How do stereotype biases influence emotional intelligence? By researching the impact of gender stereotypes on personal and professional relationships, this project will encourage us to foster emotional intelligence in ourselves and others.
In the mirror test—a classic test of self-awareness—scientists surreptitiously mark an animal and place it in front of a mirror. So far, only a few creatures have been able to recognize their altered appearance as their own. But does this method actually test self-awareness? Dr. Nathan Emery is broadening the test and taking a novel approach as he studies jays and ravens.
We’re often led to believe that intelligence is an objective measure. Sue Fletcher-Watson from the University of Edinburgh seeks to turn that framework on its head by exploring the social intelligence of people on the autism spectrum. In doing so, it aims to challenge how we think about autism, reframing it not as a disability but a difference.
Since the dawn of life, bacteria have dealt with fluctuating environments and life-or-death challenges, giving rise to a baroque network of molecular responses. These responses speak to the most primitive forms of intelligence generated by natural selection—and yet they remain little-studied. Dr. Kevin Foster is building an evolutionary framework to understand bacterial decision making to shed new light on the origins of true intelligence.
In this project, Dr. Ellen Fridland (King’s College London) challenges popular notions about what it means to be intelligent. By unpacking the processes that underlie what we think of as intelligent, she endeavors to understand the myriad functions that develop in tandem with intentional action.
How do humans make decisions under time constraints? And how can artificial intelligence research help us improve our own cognitive strategies? By researching these questions, Dr. Tom Griffiths at UC Berkeley offers new insights into human metacognition.
A major criticism of the Turing test is that it fails to capture a core feature of human intelligence: the ability to think creatively. What is creative intelligence, and can machines or nonhuman animals have it? Marta Halina addresses these questions in a multidisciplinary project that brings together a world-class team of researchers in developmental psychology, evolutionary biology, comparative psychology, artificial intelligence, and robotics.
How can we compare cognitive flexibility across species? Dr. Brian Hare from Duke University is developing a game-changing tool that allows scientists to map and measure diverse forms of intelligence.
Birds use tools and collaborate in fascinating ways. What can the way they build nests teach us about intelligence in the animal kingdom? Adopting a novel approach, Dr. Susan Healy from the University of St Andrews aims to shed light on the evolution of intelligence.
What elements underlie consciousness—and can machines master those elements? Intelligence and consciousness are often viewed as dichotomous, a notion that Dr. Ryota Kanai challenges. His bold research on artificial general intelligence (AGI) seeks to discover a novel link between these two concepts and, ultimately, whether consciousness can emerge in machines.
What can children teach us about human intelligence? Although we often think of children as “little adults,” they sometimes have a different sense of reason and logic. The ways they play and interact provide insight into intelligence as a social skill and its development over time. Dr. Bahar Koymen (University of Manchester) peeks into the inner workings of their decisions and actions to explore how our minds develop.
Humans recognize and empathize with expressions of emotion—but our empathy doesn’t always translate into compassionate action. Learning from our closest animal relatives may help us change that. By comparing social intelligence among humans, bonobos, and chimpanzees, Dr. Mariska Esther Kret aims to not only study the evolution of cooperative behavior but also help humans improve as a species.
Humans’ unparalleled achievements are widely attributed to our cumulative culture. By building on others’ discoveries, behaviors, and technologies, we create complex reserves of knowledge and technology. What explains our unique ability to stand on the shoulders of giants? Cristine Legare seeks to answer that question by comparing the minds of chimpanzees and human children.
Intelligence is often supposed to be a characteristic of whole organisms, but Michael Levin hypothesizes that it is present at multiple levels and scales within every living creature. From the subcellular to organs, from individuals to swarms and collectives, this team will explore these nested intelligences in a groundbreaking study seeking to profoundly expand our sense of intelligences everywhere.
Most choices involve tradeoffs—and balancing pros and cons is not always a rational process. The more we learn about decision-making, the clearer it becomes that we need a richer understanding of the science behind it. Dr. Richard Lewis from the University of Michigan aims to produce new insights that will help us make better choices.
Although we know chimpanzees collaborate and communicate with each other, we know little about the socio-cognitive skills that underlie these behaviors. Dr. Alicia P. Melis (University of Warwick) examines chimps’ collaborative skills, which have much to teach us about our own intelligence.
How do we develop moral intelligence? In this project, Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, an expert on child development at the University of Washington, investigates how childhood experiences shape human minds and values. In doing so, he seeks to develop ways to foster and enhance altruism.
Can artificial intelligence help develop the creative potential of humans? Thus far, machines have been unable to generate their own ideas or artifacts that are truly novel – in other words, creative. But Oxford University’s Dr Michael Osborne posits that new creative artificial intelligence (CAI) can work together with us to aid in human flourishing.
Dr. Mathias Osvath’s groundbreaking project explores baseline cognitive capacities in mammals. By comparing monotremes, marsupials, and placental mammals, it seeks to understand the evolutionary processes that led to the apparent cognitive strengths of great apes and other species that long ago diverged from our lineage.
Wild animal populations teem with varieties of intelligence and intricate rituals. But we have only a nascent understanding of how they perceive their social interactions. . Dr. Susan Perry from UCLA’s Lomas Barbudal Monkey Project will give new insights into the fascinating social intelligences across the animal kingdom.
Our minds weave intricate webs between one another. How has evolution shaped the phenomenon of the human mind, and how can understanding its complexities foster well-being? Yale University’s David Rand is using an innovative approach to explore the fascinating origins of our social intelligence.
The human mind is vastly complicated and many of our simplest intelligent actions remain difficult to model. Among these is the fascinating question of how we come to understand that other beings think like us—what is known as the “theory of mind.” Rajesh Rao will pair recent advances in computer science and neural network theories with the results of studies of human qualities like empathy, exploring social intelligence in a unique computational framework.
The human mind is a powerful phenomenon, and it becomes even more powerful when joined to others. Led by Dr. Anuraj Shankar, Harvard University’s Karma Project is an innovative effort study to intelligence in communities — and the individuals in them. By researching communities across the globe, it aims to enable individual and communal flourishing.
Ignorance, confusion, and partiality often distort human moral judgments. To reduce such mistakes, humans can use feedback from an alternative source of moral intelligence. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong proposes using moral algorithms, systems that collect and digest the moral judgement of large numbers of people to serve as a resource to enhance individual ethical capacities. By pairing the power of AI systems and human wisdom, he hopes to offer a tool for strengthening our moral capacities.
How can workplaces foster the strengths of employees from working-class backgrounds? Northwestern University professor Dr. Nicole Stephens is using an innovative approach to understand how the skills of diverse employees can complement and enrich each other.
Building upon his seminal work The Major Transitions, Eörs Szathmáry is turning his attention to a new line of inquiry: is learning essentially evolutionary in nature? His project investigates whether intelligence is not only in organisms but in the very process by which they advance through evolution.
When we look into the eyes of the creatures around us, we can often sense emotions like joy hidden beneath the surface. But is this intuition correct? Although scientists have made great strides in understanding animal intelligence, few have tackled the thorny question of emotions. Dr. Alexander Taylor aims to fill that gap by asking whether the warble call of the New Zealand kea parrot is akin to laughter.
One of the great challenges of modern neural network computing is the fact that these systems have mysterious internal organization. While we know exactly how they are designed and what information they use to develop their decisions, we don’t generally know how they wire themselves up. This means that we lack insight into the underlying logic that can be responsible for very important decisions. Max Tegmark seeks to dive into the works of artificial neural networks and develop a system for rendering their inner functions more comprehensible.
Can approaches from engineering help us understand human morality—the hows and whys of the ways moral reasoning works? Dr. Joshua Tenenbaum from MIT thinks that it might, and his project seeks to give humans cutting-edge tools to enhance their decision making and ultimately become more moral.
Can conscious intelligence be found across the biological spectrum? To answer this question, Dr. Naotsugu Tsuchiya investigates a mind radically different from our own: that of the fruit fly. Through a series of rigorous scientific experiments, this project seeks to develop a more empirical approach to understanding consciousness in diverse species.
Given the right conditions, various forms of intelligence pop up across the spectrum of life. One form of intelligence, teaching, is present in a few animal species, many of them far apart in evolutionary history. By studying one such species—the New Caledonian crow—Dr. Natalie Uomini aims to deepen our understanding of the factors that influence the evolution of teaching.
While we often think of intelligence as a property of individual people, animals, or even machines, whole groups and communities can also evince all sorts of intelligence as collectives. Robert Sloan Wilson hypothesizes that group intelligence emerges most strongly when there are deep and varied internal communications among the members of the group and will explore the possibility that our ever-increasing connectivity is leading to a greater capacity for collective intelligence.