Face the bugs:
Taking care of fruit flies is a large part of my life and has been for years.  Sometimes I have help.  Generally speaking one of us places fresh bottles of fly culture medium in the big cage; the other removes the bottles that have served their time.  These bottles by and large contain a lot of food still, and the food appears to be appreciated.  It takes a few moments to knock the flies out of the retiring bottles.  We cooperate on keeping records and other chores. 

I have noticed over the years that if the one who takes the bottles away looks in the designated windows and counts the flies that have come to rest in the marked areas that there seem to be more flies there than if the bottle thief counts them.  Since that count is crucial to the whole enterprise we keep changes to a minimum, and I could be wrong about the count difference.  But the conviction has slowly grown on me that the flies know who we are.  They are drawn to the one who brings them their fresh food.

I used to joke about it a bit.  It seemed utterly mad.  How in the world could an animal with a brain the size of the point of a pin be able to do face recognition when modern research grade world class massively parallel computers with industrial grade cooling that requires enormous amounts of power make heavy weather of it?  There is something called, “Crowd sourcing.”  The participants look at images and classify them.  The internet is used but the pattern recognition is done by people.  It’s cheaper than having a computer do it.  We’re that good.  Future theorists look forward to the day when a computer will have more number crunching power than a human brain; at that time some say that they will take over.  So I was proposing that a fruit fly can do something a computer can do only at enormous expense.  In that case it will be a long time before computers are ready to take over the world from tiny insects, much less from people.

Well I was right.  (Elizabeth A. Tibbetts and Adrian Dyer Good with Faces SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN vol. 309 no. 6 December 2013 page 63)  Those little bugs, well it hasn’t been demonstrated in fruit flies but has in some wasps, really can recognize faces and respond socially in an appropriate way.  In other words they know each other by sight and treat each other as individuals.  And they can recognize people as well. 

So don’t make my mistake and dismiss an idea just because it sounds crazy.  Look to the evidence.

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