In an appropriate follow up to yesterday's article on IBM's large scale cortical simulation, comes news from brain researchers at Queen Mary, University of London and Cambridge University. Lars Chittka and other researchers, who have been studying both computer simulations and animal brains, now believe that brain size is not as significant as previously believed with respect to general intelligence and consciousness. "No one would seriously suggest that a bigger computer is automatically a better computer", say the researchers.
We know that body size is the single best way to predict an animal's brain size. However, contrary to popular belief, we can't say that brain size predicts their capacity for intelligent behaviour. In bigger brains we often don't find more complexity, just an endless repetition of the same neural circuits over and over.
The larger amount of IO needed in larger animals for things such as more muscles and higher resolution sensors may be the main driving factor for needing larger brains. The researchers say it's possible significant intelligence and consciousness could be present even in insect brains. This fits in with other recent research showing that, despite their tiny brain size, bees could match the best machine-based face recognition algorithms. For more, see the full text the researchers report, Are Bigger Brains Better (PDF format), or listen to the BBC Radio interview of Professor Lars Chittka on BBC Radio 4. CC-licensed image of honeybee by flickr user Agent Opie