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Lactobacillus Imperii: A Review On A Somewhat Implausible Scenario of Exploding General Intelligence

En son güncellendiği tarih: 30 Tem 2020

What Is Intelligence?

What is intelligence? Is it how many arithmetic problems can you solve in a minute? Is it how good you draw pictures? Or, is it how good do you interact with people? It depends on who you ask. Even though there are many explanations and tests for intelligence out there, the correct answer is: We don’t know ( or don’t have consensus yet. ). Some people argue that it is about cognitive abilities, like Hernstein and Murray, or N.E. Haggerty. I find these explanations excessively human-centric. Some other researchers define it in much more general terms like the one by Bingham “ability of an organism to solve new problems”, or as Gardner’s definition: “to solve problems,or to create products, that are valued in one or more cultural settings” - which is still human-centric yet has the nuance of culture in it-. There are also much more general definitions and my two favourites are from Henmon and J.P. Guilford. Henmon says that intelligence is one’s capacity for knowledge and the knowledge one already has and Guilford says that intelligence is performing some specific action on some specific thing to create some other specific product, which is a definition as general as a definition can be.(Legg & Hutter, 2007) As an individual, I believe the most general definitions are the most correct ones, as they can include much more information than the other narrow definitions*; yet, they are not the most useful ones. For this reason, in this text when I mention “intelligence” I will be talking about “human-like intelligence”, the intelligence we are looking for when we conduct SETI project (“SETI”, n.d.), the intelligence we understand. Yet, because of the topic I chose, I will also shift to more general terms, as it may be required. In the end, intelligence is what it is and even though we cannot successfully define it, as Mr. Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, we know it when we see it.

Now, the question is: What could be intelligent? If we are going to follow through J.P. Guilford’s definition, anything can be intelligent. As he doesn’t include “intention” as a part of his intelligence definition, anything doing anything could be considered constituting intelligence in and of itself. Everything is an operation in the Universe, every physical process (apart from quantum randomness, which may or may not have inputs in its randomness, as there are also Hidden Variable interpretations , such as Bohmian Mechanics (Goldstein, 2017) , has an input and an output as the causality chain requires it to be. Every change in the Universe is a change in the states of the Universe system, which is - at least according to the concept of Boltzmann’s Entropy- a change from “Potential Information” to “Actual Information”. (Dittrich, 2014) What I try to demonstrate is, with a slight chance of using the terminology of Information Theory in a very wrong way, if every non-quantum physical system has a causal link, and if we can define every causal link as information transportation; and if we can say that every process whatever simple it is, is actually a transforming process takes a particular “content” - as J.P. Guilford puts it- and produces another product from that content, how cannot we say that everything is intelligent? That is why, as I mentioned above, I am going to use cognitive approaches to intelligence in this text.

Can Yogurt Be Intelligent?

This text’s actual topic is an episode from a Netflix series called “Love, Death, Robots”. It is a Sci-Fi series with a non-continuous structure, every episode is in a different place and time, and tells a different story. The episode I am going to discuss about is the sixth episode of the first season, “When The Yogurt Took Over”. It is a four and a half minute animated movie, where scientists are trying to develop a new strain of lactobacillus bacteria using their “most computationally advanced” strains of DNA and they accidentally create a super-intelligent strain of yogurt fermenting bacteria, and as it happens with every story that includes a super-intelligent being, the yogurt tries to take over the whole world, starting with Ohio. And, in the end yogurt expands to space. It is a humorous episode. It also makes one to ask many questions: What is a “computationally advanced” DNA? Can yogurt be intelligent? Can anything be intelligent? We shall discuss.

Let’s start with “computationally advanced DNA” . When one considers it, it could be easily realized that the one particular DNA strain, or several genes, cannot be intelligent in and of itself. Also, it could be easily realized that a cell itself cannot be very intelligent due to the basic lack of capacity, it is very small, it only has itself as the information gathering device; it is a tough choice for a being to be intelligent. Yet, there is this interesting situation: A milliliter of yogurt has around 10 million bacteria in it. (Nwamaka & Chike, 2010, p.1)** In the episode, the yogurt that “reaches” intelligence is arguably around 500 mililitres, which makes it to have around 5 billion cells to work with. Let’s keep this in mind.

The best intelligence we know of is ours, our brain. Now, our brain has around 86 billion neurons in it, but the thing is, the “brain” part of our “brains” is the cerebral cortex; and it has around 26 billion neurons in it. (Herculano-Houzel, 2009,p. 4) And another situation to consider is, the cerebral cortex has many areas that may not necessarily be associated with intelligence like occipital lobe a huge part of cerebral cortex that is only used for seeing basically. The yogurt in the episode doesn’t have eyes. We know it can speak, hear and it is literate, yet we don’t know if it can see. So we can argue that it doesn’t need that kind of a processing structure. It probably has something similar to a temporal and frontal lobe (with a much smaller motor cortex, as it doesn’t have any arms,legs,hands, etc.), as it acts “intelligent” ,and can communicate through sound. So, even though the yogurt has a cellular population problem, as we can argue that many of the parts of the human brain is not necessary for intelligence, they are redundant for the yogurt, the 5 billion “computationally advanced” lactobacillus bacteria could be enough to generate intelligence. But, how does one generate intelligence? This makes us return to the “computationally advanced” part. I argue that the hypothetical computationally advanced DNA has a tendency to cause the cells it is injected with to create connections among themselves. Taking a connectionist perspective, we can say that if the cells can create connections among themselves, that can be modified accordingly to the situation, then they may create networks, which we may call “neural networks”, that can learn, act and do whatever “intelligence” requires them to do. If we take Integrated Information Theory in account, if the cells themselves are integrated enough, the yogurt may even have consciousness.(Oizumi, Albantakis, & Tononi, 2014)

Keeping the connectionist perspective in mind, if the lactobacillus bacteria clumps together in the right way and communicates with each other in the right way, they may acquire intelligence. If they do it in a different way than we do, if they have much more efficient cells, if they have much better connections somehow, they may also become super-intelligent.


In the end, we don't know what intelligence is, at least we cannot define it in a way that everyone agrees; we also don’t know how to create intelligence: We can make machines that act intelligently, we can observe other beings that are seemingly “intelligent”. The question in this case had come from a short episode of a series called “When Yogurt Took Over”. I do not know whether this is possible or not, yet as I have demonstrated above, in principle it should be completely possible for a moderately sized cup of yogurt to took over the world.


Dittrich, T. (2014). ‘The concept of information in physics’: an interdisciplinary topical lecture. European Journal of Physics, 36(1). Retrieved from https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0143-0807/36/1/015010

Goldstein, S. (2017, March 27). Bohmian Mechanics. Retrieved January 12, 2020, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-bohm/#CompQuanMechDesc.

Herculano-Houzel, S. (2009). The human brain in numbers: a linearly scaled-up primate brain. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 3, 4. doi: 10.3389/neuro.09.031.2009

Legg, S., & Hutter, M. (2007). A Collection of Definitions of Intelligence. ArXiv. Retrieved from https://arxiv.org/pdf/0706.3639.pdf

Nwamaka, N. T., & Chike, A. E. (2010). Bacteria population of some commercially prepared yoghurt sold in Enugu State, Eastern Nigeria. . African Journal of Microbiology Research , 4(10), 984–988.

Oizumi, M., Albantakis, L., & Tononi, G. (2014). From the Phenomenology to the Mechanisms of Consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0. PLoS Computational Biology, 10(5). doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003588

SETI. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2020, from https://www.seti.org/seti-institute/Search-Extraterrestrial-Intelligence.

*: This is what happens when you don't understand Information Theory even slightly.

**: This is a lie. The amount of lactobacillus found in the samples of yogurt was around the 25% of all bacteria.

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