Water Dogs – Good for Uplift?

Update: I am now convinced that the Aquatic Ape theory is wrong [0]. So much of this post is irrelevant. But I still believe that we should be uplifting animals.

Elaine Morgan gave an interesting TED talk about human evolution and the theory that our ancestors lived in the water [1]. The aquatic ape theory explains why humans are the only primates that have almost no body hair and why we can consciously control our breathing (which is essential for speech and which is apparently rare among land mammals).

So it seems that when (not if) we start a program of uplifting animals to the same status as humans a good starting point would be animals with an aquatic history. So we want animals that are friendly towards humans, reasonably intelligent, and which can be trained. Animals that can work well on dry land would be most convenient as are animals that can be owned domestically, so dolphins are not good candidates.

There are a number of dog breeds that have been specifically bred for operation in water [2]. This includes dogs bred for assisting fishermen (such as the Spanish Water Dog) [3] and for hunting in marshes (the majority of Water Dogs [2]). Even dogs that have not been bred for aquatic work can be very expressive in their barks (as I’m sure every dog owner has observed), so an aquatic dog should have the potential for greater speech.

So it seems to me that the Norwegian Puffin Dog offers great benefits for dexterity [4] which combined with slightly more speech potential from some water dogs should give a good start to the breeding program.

CNN has an interesting article on the intelligence of dog breeds [5]. It seems that the top 5 are:

  1. Border collies
  2. Poodles
  3. German shepherds
  4. Golden retrievers
  5. Doberman pinchers

The Poodle being a water dog and the second most intelligent breed of dog seems to have some good characteristics for uplift, so a Poodle/Puffin-dog cross should do well.

Recently I have been reading Michael Anissimov’s blog at which concerns Transhumanism, AI, nanotechnology, and extinction risk [6]. A large part of Michael’s blogging concerns the development of Friendly Artificial Intelligence (FAI) [7], this is a type of AI that would not destroy us by accident or malice if it gains the ability to self-improve at a rapid rate (and therefore vastly exceed human capabilities in a small amount of time). It seems to me that if we can uplift dogs to a level equivalent to humans and have them still like us then we will have achieved a significant step towards developing general non-human intelligences that are sympathetic to us.

13 comments to Water Dogs – Good for Uplift?

  • Nathan Myers

    Sorry, the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, as appealingly quirky as it is, has had decades to make its case, but it only gets weaker as the evidence rolls in. That’s not to say otters shouldn’t be next in line once we and corvids have both passed on, but the corvids do deserve their chance first.

    Also, everybody knows huskies are the most intelligent dog breed. Poodles? Ha.

    Finally, it’s far too late to start worrying about whether artificial intelligences will destroy us. They already are doing. We call them corporations. In no time humans will be, to them, an unnecessary nuisance, and will be dispensed with.

  • etbe

    Nathan: I agree that Corvids are intelligent, but they don’t seem to have the potential for using tools that animals with four legs do. A bird can really only use one foot for grabbing things when they aren’t flying. I think that dogs and other primates are the most likely candidates if we fail as a species.

    Do you have a reference for Husky IQ?

    Good point about corporations, although they don’t have the drive to destroy all humans (someone has to own the shares).

  • What I’m not clear on is why we are going to “uplift” animals. If we did why we wouldn’t use one of the chimpanzee species, is that they are physically too strong and thus dangerous, or likely to take over?

    As far as I can establish chimps, dogs, and dolphins are already intelligent, and frequently sympathetic to humans (without much reason, I think they just like the company).

    Morgan also claimed non-human primates won’t stick their heads under water except under duress. YouTube brings you the Aquatic macaque, which I note have hair and concious control of their breathing and are pretty vocal when they want to be. No doubt they are still evolving to be hairless like Otters, Sea Lions, polar bears, walruses etc.

    YouTube will offer you a random selection of other swimming primates at the end. Isn’t the Internet wonderful, you can find the refutations to bad ideas in just a few mouse clicks.

  • etbe

    Simon: The process of Uplifting a species can either be done by a government or large corporation or by individuals. The former allows isolation of large animals and dealing with the legal issues related to owning primates (which are not trivial). The latter restricts you to animals that can be legally kept in your home.

    Animals that are sympathetic to others of their own kind will tend to be sympathetic to other species given the right social situation. This doesn’t mean that they would refrain from killing all of us if they had the capacity – humans are generally sympathetic to most primates, but they are mostly on the edge of extinction…

    Thanks for the reference to the site.

  • Nathan Myers

    1. The corporations will own one another’s stock. Many do already.

    2. You can tell huskies are smartest just by looking at their eyes. Jeez. (But seriously, next time you see somebody walking a husky: look carefully and decide which seems more intelligent, the dog or its human. The dog wins every time. That would never happen with a poodle.)


  • etbe

    Nathan: Thanks for the references. Now do you think it’s reasonable to assume that a brain similar in size to a human brain is necessary to achieve what we have achieved? If so then it would be necessary to breed quite large corvids to support the brain mass necessary.

    The CNN article claimed that some dogs are as intelligent as a 2.5yo human. I doubt that and I think that although it would be possible to breed dogs as smart as us, it would take a long time. I’ve never seen anyone talk a dog through a Linux install, but I have seen that done with a 2.5yo human.

  • Nathan Myers

    Brain mass seems to be related to body mass — smaller animals do equally well, mentally, as larger ones, with only a proportional amount of brain. (Whales and elephants don’t seem especially bright.) Birds might make do with much less, because they’ve always had much more pressure to miniaturize. Birds have an advantage, too, that they don’t need to cram a brain through a birth canal. Probably our avian successor will be flightless, though, or mostly; one of the ground hornbills might have the ticket.

    I doubt dogs can be bred to match us in any reasonable amount of time. If it’s not a matter of raw quantity of brain, but of organization, you probably need to start with the right basic wiring already in place. Macaques live in the same habitats as H. erectus, but didn’t develop. Why not? It probably has a lot to do with luck. Some critters have the raw materials there, most don’t. A propensity for inventive play is probably an essential prerequisite.

    Actually I think to compare adult dogs quantitatively with immature humans disqualifies the investigator. No more grants for him!

  • etbe

    Nathan: Your argument about the birth canal seems wrong. If the squeeze of the birth process precludes a greater brain density then you would think that humans would have evolved denser (and therefore smaller) brains which therefore result in less squeezing in the birth process.

    Also the amount of brain power needed to drink milk by instinct is not that great (consider the tiny brains of newborn kangaroos). So there seems no reason why human babies couldn’t be born with smaller heads due to having less brain capacity at birth – they could develop it later. Like premature babies do.

    This whole giant-headed baby thing seems like an evolutionary mistake that merely happened to not kill enough mothers during the birth process to get selected against.

    I agree with your point about the lack of apparent IQ in whales (but I still think that they are too smart to eat).

    Anyway, you are permitted to own pet crows. So why not start a breeding program?

    Regarding Macaques, that would probably be due to competition. Our ancestors monopolised the opportunities for doing things that required more brain power and squeezed out the competition. The Macaques did better than the Neandertals who were much more like us…

  • Nathan Myers

    It seems likely that human brains have continued to improve (along certain axes) without getting bigger, by a process similar in spirit to birds must have done under corresponding selection pressure against weight. It’s generally hard to re-organize ontogeny. A 1/3 childbirth mortality rate improves concentration (e.g. read of Madame du Chatelaine’s last year), but would be expected to produce what seem from the outside like strange internal conflicts in women.

    I think I’ll start with New Caledonian crows, and start by trying to get their fingers back. Ask Dr. Eldritch explored a similar theme recently, starting at .

  • Martin

    When reading the first line, I expected another rant about the Ubuntu name scheme … . Guess you should add it to their wiki page of name proposals.

  • etbe

    Nathan: I can’t find a reference to Madame du Chatelaine on the net, please provide a reference or write a brief summary.

  • Nathan Myers

    About the dogs:

    About Madame du Cha… that’s because I misspelled the name. Émilie du Châtelet was a contemporary of Priestley and Lavoisier, and Voltaire’s lover, and an excellent laboratory physicist and mathematician. She died (as she had expected) shortly after childbirth at 42.

    “In the year of her death, she completed the work regarded as her outstanding achievement: her translation into French, with her own commentary, of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, including her derivation from its principles of mechanics the notion of conservation of energy. Today du Châtelet’s translation of Principia Mathematica is still the standard translation of the work into French.”

  • etbe

    The above article titled “Good Dog, Smart Dog” about dog intelligence and psychiatric service dogs is interesting. They claim that a dog is as intelligent as a 2yo human without good reason, but the rest of the article is good.