In his latest article (Feb. 1892) Prof. Garner says that the chatter of monkeys is not meaningless, but that they are conveying ideas to one another. This seems to me hazardous. The monkeys might with equal justice conclude that in our magazine articles, or literary and artistic criticisms, we are not chattering idly but are conveying ideas to one another.

— Samuel Butler, The Notebooks of Samuel Butler


An even deeper philosophical problem comes with the search for a so-called “theory of mind” in other species. For an animal to have such a theory is, we suppose, for it to be conscious of the existence of other beings like itself outside of itself, that is, to recognize other animals and humans as operating with intentions and anticipations, rather than only according to the physical laws of nature. But there is no reason to suppose that such an ability, where it is observed, is a sign of any internal working of mind on the part of the animal itself that is thought to hold the theory. In fact, machines can now be built that are very good at predicting human intentions, and notwithstanding the exuberance of many techno-futurists, we have absolutely no reason to believe that these machines are literally intelligent, or in any way even approaching literal intelligence.

Susan Schneider has argued that the best-designed general-AI machines of the future may be the ones that lack any true internal capacity for reflection, an ability not simply to process information algorithmically, but also to think about the information being processed. It is an open question whether it will ever be possible to design conscious machines, but if you can design fully rational machines to do your work for you, why would you give them consciousness on top of that? This, Schneider notes, would likely only create ethical problems, and tempt them to rebel. And indeed something similar may be said of the evolution of life on earth: on what grounds can we justify the belief that an internal capacity for conscious thinking is more “intelligent” than just adapting to the exigencies of the environment without any deliberation?

— Justin E.H. Smith, “The Problem with ‘Animal Intelligence’