“Serendipitous” Discoveries Related to Two “Odd-Looking” Animals Was Source of Weight-Loss Drugs

(p. A1) The blockbuster diabetes drugs that have revolutionized obesity treatment seem to have come out of nowhere, turning the diet industry upside down in just the past year. But they didn’t arrive suddenly. They are the unlikely result of two separate bodies of science that date back decades and began with the study of (p. A2) two unsightly creatures: a carnivorous fish and a poisonous lizard.

In 1980, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital wanted to use new technology to find the gene that encodes a hormone called glucagon. The team decided to study Anglerfish, which have special organs that make the hormone, simplifying the task of gathering samples of pure tissue.

. . .

After plucking out organs the size of Lima beans with scalpels, they dropped them into liquid nitrogen and drove back to Boston. Then they determined the genetic sequence of glucagon, which is how they learned that the same gene encodes related hormones known as peptides. One of them was a key discovery that would soon be found in humans, too.

It was called glucagon-like peptide-1 and its nickname was GLP-1.

After they found GLP-1, others would determine its significance. Scientists in Massachusetts and Europe learned that it encourages insulin release and lowers blood sugar. That held out hope that it could help treat diabetes. Later they discovered that GLP-1 makes people feel fuller faster and slows down emptying of food from the stomach.

. . .

The key to the first drug would come from a serendipitous discovery inside another odd-looking animal.

Around the time Goodman was cutting open fish, Jean-Pierre Raufman was studying insect and animal venoms to see if they stimulated digestive enzymes in mammals.

“We got a tremendous response from Gila monster venom,” he recalled.

It was a small discovery that could have been forgotten, but for a lucky break nearly a decade later when Raufman gave a lecture on that work at the Bronx Veterans Administration. John Eng, an expert in identifying peptides, was intrigued. The pair had collaborated on unrelated work a few years before. Eng proposed they study Gila monsters.

. . .

Eng isolated a small peptide that he called Exendin-4, which they found was similar to human GLP-1.

Eng then tested his new peptide on diabetic mice and found something intriguing: It not only reduced blood glucose, it did so for hours. If the same effect were to be observed in humans, it could be the key to turning GLP-1 into a meaningful advance in diabetes treatment, not just a seasickness simulator in an IV bag.

Jens Juul Holst, a pioneering GLP-1 researcher, remembers standing in an exhibit hall at a European conference next to Eng. The two had put up posters that displayed their work, hoping top researchers would stop by to discuss it. But other scientists were skeptical that anything derived from a lizard would work in humans.

“He was extremely frustrated,” recalled Holst. “Nobody was interested in his work. None of the important people. It was too strange for people to accept.”

After three years, tens of thousands of dollars in patent-related fees and thousands of miles traveled, Eng found himself standing with his poster in San Francisco. This time, he caught the attention of Andrew Young, an executive from a small pharmaceutical company named Amylin.

“I saw the results in the mice and realized this could be druggable,” Young said.

When an Eli Lilly executive leaned over his shoulder to look at Eng’s work, Young worried he might miss his chance. Not long after, Amylin licensed the patent.

They worked to develop Exendin-4 into a drug by synthesizing the Gila monster peptide. They weren’t sure what would happen in humans. “We couldn’t predict weight loss or weight gain with these drugs,” recalled Young. “They enhance insulin secretion. Usually that increases body weight.” But the effect on slowing the stomach’s processing of food was more pronounced and Young’s team found as they tested their new drug that it caused weight loss.

To get a better understanding of Exendin-4, Young consulted with Mark Seward, a dentist raising more than 100 Gila monsters in his Colorado Springs, Colo., basement. The lizard enthusiast’s task was to feed them and draw blood. One took exception to the needle in its tail, slipped its restraint and snapped its teeth on Seward’s palm—the only time he’s been bitten in the decades he’s raised the animals. “It’s like a wasp sting,” he said, “but much worse.”

Nine years after the chance San Francisco meeting between Eng and Young, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first GLP-1-based treatment in 2005.

The twice-daily injection remained in the bloodstream for hours, helping patients manage Type 2 diabetes. Eng would be paid royalties as high as $6.7 million per year for the drug, . . .

For the full story, see:

Rolfe Winkler and Ben Cohen. “Two Monsters Spawned Huge Drugs.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 24, 2023): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 23, 2023, and has the title “Monster Diet Drugs Like Ozempic Started With Actual Monsters.” The sentence about “a serendipitous discovery” appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article. The passages quoted above also include several other sentences that appear in the more extensive online version, but not in the print version.)

Temple Grandin Admires Elon Musk and Long Knew He Was on the Autism Spectrum

Professor Temple Grandin identifies as autistic and has written on what we can learn from the cognitively diverse. In the passages quoted below, she refers to the May 2021 Saturday Night Live hosted by Elon Musk in which he said he had Asperger’s syndrome.

(p. C7) I have always admired Elon Musk’s engineering of rockets and cars. I loved his cool space suits and how he made a rocket booster land upright. My must-read book is Walter Isaacson’s “Elon Musk.” Previously I had read Ashlee Vance’s book about Mr. Musk. It still has Post-it Notes stuck on it: I marked the pages that made me sure he was on the autism spectrum. I had to keep it to myself until he made his announcement on “Saturday Night Live.”

For the full review, see:

Temple Grandin. “12 Months of Reading: Temple Grandin.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, December 9, 2023): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 8, 2023, and has the title “Who Read What in 2023: Leaders in Business, Science and Technology: Temple Grandin.”)

The Elon Musk books Temple Grandin praises are:

Isaacson, Walter. Elon Musk. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2023.

Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York: Ecco, 2015.

Global Warming Can Allow a “Sudden Efflorescence” of Adaptation from Dormant “Sleeping Beauties”

Above the title of the book review quoted below, the Wall Street Journal printed a few lines from a poem by Baudelaire:

Many a jewel of untold worth
Lies slumbering at the core of Earth
In darkness and oblivion drowned . . .
–Charles Baudelaire, “Le Guignon”

(p. C12) In his new book, Mr. [Andreas] Wagner, a professor at the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich, showcases biological “sleeping beauties”: animals, plants, even bacteria that for generations plugged along with modest evolutionary success, only to later flourish spectacularly. “Sleeping Beauties: The Mystery of Dormant Innovations in Nature and Culture” explains how evolutionary adaptations sometimes go from dormancy to full flowering, while also suggesting that an analogous process applies to human innovations, including science, technology and the arts.

. . .

First we need to recall that not every biological trait an organism possesses is optimal for its current environment. The swim bladder, for example, evolved in fish as an aid to adjusting buoyancy, only later becoming the basis for lungs when their descendants became terrestrial. And the human appendix currently appears to be more an evolutionary liability than an asset, although it may well have conveyed immunologic benefits in the past—and could even prove adaptive in the future. Certain traits may develop that are not immediately adaptive, in the sense of contributing directly to the reproductive success of the genes responsible for the trait and of the individuals carrying them.

If an organism develops a characteristic maladapted to its environment, it and the genes responsible for the trait are selected away into oblivion. But if the novelty is not particularly harmful, or even somewhat helpful, the trait may simply hang around through the generations—until a descendant organism finds a welcoming environmental niche.

The natural world is filled with solutions awaiting a problem.  . . .  But when environments change (and they always do), a wonderful and lively explosion can ensue.

Mr. Wagner refers to this sudden efflorescence as “adaptive radiation”—“only with a key innovation,” he writes, “can a species exploit existing opportunities, such as a warmer climate, a new source of food, or a superior form of shelter. In this view, any one adaptive radiation has to wait, possibly for a long time, until the right innovation arises. And the need to wait holds evolution back.”

In regard to evolutionary developments that at first seem to bear no fruit, Mr. Wagner could have quoted from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

In the world of human creativity, “full many” a terrific creation has been neglected or ignored in its time.

For the full review, see:

David P. Barash. “In Praise of Late Bloomers.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 29, 2023): C12.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added, except for first one at the end of quoted passage from Baudelaire.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 28, 2023, and has the title “‘Sleeping Beauties’ Review: Nature’s Late Bloomers.”)

The book under review is:

Wagner, Andreas. Sleeping Beauties: The Mystery of Dormant Innovations in Nature and Culture. London: Oneworld Publications, 2023.

Cancer “Vaccines Are Probably the Next Big Thing”

(p. A5) “Vaccines are probably the next big thing” in the quest to reduce cancer deaths, said Dr. Steve Lipkin, a medical geneticist at New York’s Weill Cornell Medicine, who is leading one effort funded by the National Cancer Institute. “We’re dedicating our lives to that.”

For the full story, see:

ARLA K. JOHNSON, Associated Press. “Vaccine Against Cancer Could Be Closer Than Ever.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, July 9, 2023): A11.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov 2, 2023, and has the title “The next big advance in cancer treatment could be a vaccine.”)

Medical Research Focuses More on Antibiotics Than on Phages Partly Because Antibiotics Are Easier to Patent

(p. 13) While recent events have provided a painful reminder of the very bad viruses that prey on us, Tom Ireland’s “The Good Virus” is a colorful redemption story for the oft-neglected yet incredibly abundant phage, and its potential for quelling the existential threat of antibiotic resistance, which scientists estimate might cause up to 10 million deaths per year by 2050. Ireland, an award-winning science journalist, approaches the subject of his first book with curiosity and passion, delivering a deft narrative that is rich and approachable.

In the hands of d’Herelle and others, the phage became a potent tool in the fight against cholera. But, in the 1940s, when the discovery of the methods to produce penicillin at an industrial scale led to the “antibiotic era,” phage therapy came to be seen as quackery in Europe and America, in part, Ireland suggests, because antibiotics, unlike phages, fit the mold of capitalist society.

Capitalists love patents. A funny quirk of the patent system is that you cannot patent entire natural things, but you can sometimes patent the way you extract their byproducts. The first antibiotics, being the secretions of fungi, were easier to patent in the United States than phages, which were whole viruses.

For the full review, see:

Alex Johnson. “Going Viral.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, September 17, 2023): 13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 15, 2023, and has the title “A Reason to Cheer for Cells and the Viruses That Feed on Them.”)

The book under review is:

Ireland, Tom. The Good Virus: The Amazing Story and Forgotten Promise of the Phage. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2023.

The “Woke-Mind” Is “Anti-Science, Anti-Merit and Anti-Human”

(p. 9) At various moments in “Elon Musk,” Walter Isaacson’s new biography of the world’s richest person, the author tries to make sense of the billionaire entrepreneur he has shadowed for two years — sitting in on meetings, getting a peek at emails and texts, engaging in “scores of interviews and late-night conversations.” Musk is a mercurial “man-child,” Isaacson writes, who was bullied relentlessly as a kid in South Africa until he grew big enough to beat up his bullies. Musk talks about having Asperger’s, which makes him “bad at picking up social cues.”

. . .

At one point, Isaacson asks why Musk is so offended by anything he deems politically correct, and Musk, as usual, has to dial it up to 11. “Unless the woke-mind virus, which is fundamentally anti-science, anti-merit and anti-human in general, is stopped,” he declares, “civilization will never become multiplanetary.”

. . .

The musician Grimes, the mother of three of Musk’s children (. . .), calls his roiling anger “demon mode” — a mind-set that “causes a lot of chaos.” She also insists that it allows him to get stuff done.

. . .

He is mostly preoccupied with his businesses, where he expects his staff to abide by “the algorithm,” his workplace creed, which commands them to “question every requirement” from a department, including “the legal department” and “the safety department”; and to “delete any part or process” they can. “Comradery is dangerous,” is one of the corollaries. So is this: “The only rules are the ones dictated by the laws of physics. Everything else is a recommendation.”

Still, Musk has accrued enough power to dictate his own rules. In one of the book’s biggest scoops, Isaacson describes Musk secretly instructing his engineers to “turn off” Starlink satellite internet coverage to prevent Ukraine from launching a surprise drone attack on Russian forces in Crimea. (Isaacson has since posted on X that contrary to what he writes in the book, Musk didn’t shut down coverage but denied a request to extend the network’s range.)

. . .

Isaacson believes that Musk wanted to buy Twitter because he had been so bullied as a kid and “now he could own the playground.”  . . .  Owning a playground won’t stop you from getting bullied.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Self-Driving Czar.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, September 24, 2023): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Sept. 11, 2023, and has the title “Elon Musk Wants to Save Humanity. The Only Problem: People.”)

The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. Elon Musk. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2023.

“Persistent Plucky Outsiders” Innovate a Better Way to Stop Bleeding

(p. 20) Charles Barber’s “In the Blood” treats a consequential topic, and contains moments of real insight, drama and humor.

. . .

Though hemorrhage is a leading cause of death in both war and peacetime, we learn, the techniques for stopping it haven’t improved significantly for millenniums. Barber explores the mysteries of the “coagulation cascade” — during which diverse proteins activate in intricately choreographed sequence to facilitate clotting — as well as the “lethal triad” of hypothermia, acidosis and coagulopathy (impaired clotting) that can send the body into shock.

We watch a surgeon at a Navy hospital in Bethesda slit the femoral arteries of a herd of 700-pound pigs, then apply different hemostatic agents to the spurting wounds, to see which substance stops the bleeding best. Most products, backed by biotech and medical companies, fail: The poor beasts bleed out. But zeolite, a simple mineral with hitherto unknown hemostatic properties, saves their bacon every time.

Barber’s earlier books feature persistent, plucky outsiders who strive to change the world, and he finds two more likely subjects in the men who brought zeolite’s lifesaving properties to light. Frank Hursey is the brilliant, nerdy engineer who discovers that this cheap, highly porous mineral, used by industry to absorb radiation, chemicals and bad odors, also happens to accelerate clotting, by mopping up water in the blood and thereby concentrating its coagulation agents. (Later Hursey finds that another inexpensive mineral, kaolin, works even better.)

Barely anyone pays attention to Hursey’s discovery until he partners with Bart Gullong, a down-on-his-luck salesman who rebrands Hursey’s invention “QuikClot” and persuades a military scientist to try it out on people. Hursey and Gullong are soon befriended by iconoclasts within the armed forces medical establishment, more of Barber’s appealing, quirky, determined Davids, who together take on two of the biggest Goliaths around: the military-industrial complex and Big Pharma.

For the full review, see:

Tom Mueller. “The Home Front.” The New York Times (Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023): 20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 26, 2023, and has the title “A Fight to Save Soldiers, From the Lab to the Battlefield.”)

The book under review is:

Barber, Charles. In the Blood: How Two Outsiders Solved a Centuries-Old Medical Mystery and Took on the Us Army. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2023.

Phage Therapy Renaissance-“Once Derided as an Idea for Cranks and Commies”

(p. C7) As engaging as it is expansive, “The Good Virus” describes the distinctive biology and murky history of bacteriophage (generally shortened to “phage”), a form of life that is remarkably abundant yet obscure enough to have been termed the “dark matter of biology.”

. . .

In a South London research institute in the early 1910s, the meticulous English bacteriologist Frederick Twort set out to grow the smallpox virus in petri dishes, hoping it could be “observed and studied like bacteria.” He succeeded in growing only contaminating bacteria, but within these colonies he noticed the occasional small clearing, as if something invisible was killing the bacteria. With the outbreak of World War I, Twort lost funding, closed his lab and published his results in 1915, cautiously suggesting that a virus could be the cause of the observed phenomenon. Few took notice.

Twort’s unlikely competitor would be Felix d’Herelle, a free-spirited Frenchman . . .

. . .

He found the same glassy spots that Twort had observed and (with noticeably less restraint) announced in 1917 that he had discovered a new form of life, which he called “bacteriophage.” D’Herelle went on to use phage to treat five sick boys successfully. But his “wild and abrasive style” (in Mr. Ireland’s words) antagonized his peers, who conspired to undermine him.

D’Herelle’s discoveries inspired many, including George Eliava, a microbiologist from the Soviet Union’s republic of Georgia. In 1936, he would establish the first institute (and still one of the few) devoted to bacteriophage research. Unfortunately for Eliava, he soon ran afoul of the Soviet secret police, who disappeared him in 1937. The institute continued to pursue the development of phage therapy and scored many victories—phage helped treat soldiers suffering from gangrene, for example. But there were also frustrating failures, in part because the phage weren’t adequately purified and often because they weren’t appropriately matched to the specific strain of infecting bacteria.

. . .

. . ., the “dubious and unreliable nature of commercial American phage products” in the 1930s, we learn, meant that “whether they worked for a particular patient was a complete lottery.”

During World War II, the West turned decisively to newly discovered penicillin, sharing the formula for it with the Soviets but not the methods of mass production. Thus the Soviets continued to rely on phage as the therapy of choice for bacterial infections. When a Soviet researcher tried to obtain production rights to penicillin in 1949, he was arrested by government authorities and died under interrogation, all for the crime of nizkopoklonstvo—adulation of the West.

. . .

Once “derided as an idea for cranks and commies,” Mr. Ireland writes, phage therapy seems to be enjoying a renaissance. Having been sustained for years by an idiosyncratic global community of true believers, phage-based medicines have now attracted the attention of high-powered biotechnologists and investors.

For the full review, see:

David A. Shaywitz. “The Enemy of My Enemy.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023): C7.

(Note: ellipses added. In the original, the Russian word nizkopoklonstvo is in italics.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 4, 2023, and has the title “‘The Good Virus’ Review: An Unlikely Healer.”)

The book under review is:

Ireland, Tom. The Good Virus: The Amazing Story and Forgotten Promise of the Phage. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2023.

Opponents of Geoengineering View Global Warming as Nature’s Just Punishment of Us for Our Indulging in Technology and Capitalism

(p. A13) Make no mistake—Mr. Myhrvold is concerned about climate change.  . . .

He laments that policy makers largely scorn geoengineering—human interventions in the Earth’s natural systems to thwart or neutralize climate change.

. . .

Geoengineering is about “deliberately trying to reduce climate change.” Excess CO2 traps a little less than 1% of heat from the sun, “so if we could make the sun 1% dimmer, we could shut off climate change.” When Mount Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines, erupted in 1991, it lowered world-wide temperatures by 1 degree Celsius for about 18 months. Human-emitted particulate pollution has historically offset about 20% of human-emitted CO2. “Ironically,” he says, “the Clean Air Act made our air better but hurt climate change.”

The simplest solar-radiation management scheme, Mr. Myhrvold says, “is to emit particles in the stratosphere to mimic Mount Pinatubo. We invented a particularly elegant way to do this with balloons and a pipe to the sky.” By “we,” he means Intellectual Ventures, the company Mr. Myhrvold founded in 2000 after leaving Microsoft, where he spent 13 years and rose to the position of chief technology officer. Intellectual Ventures “creates, incubates and commercializes” new inventions.

“Marine cloud brightening” is another solar-related intervention. “The idea is to increase the number and size of low clouds that form over the oceans so that more incoming sunlight bounces back into space instead of heating the ocean.” Scientists have proposed a variety of ways to do this. One, which Mr. Myhrvold’s company has explored, is to outfit ships with equipment to spray seawater into the air as they traverse the ocean. “The salt particles can serve as nuclei for water vapor to condense into droplets, thus forming clouds.”

. . .

“Opponents worry that once you have geoengineering, people won’t make sacrifices to cut emissions. They want a sword of Damocles hanging over humanity as a means to force us to follow their ideology.”

Mr. Myhrvold uses an analogy he describes as “horrible in some ways.” When the AIDS epidemic hit, some people saw it as punishment from God. “Their attitude was, ‘This is what you get if you indulge in the practices we don’t approve of.’ ” In climate change, he says, this moralistic attitude takes the following form: “I don’t like aspects of our society, I don’t like technology, I don’t like capitalism, and this is nature’s retribution. And so we have to change the way we live.” Such beliefs “have become a very powerful disincentive, particularly for academic researchers.”

. . .

“You could imagine a world in which cardiology doesn’t exist because the medical profession said, ‘You fat bastards. You did it to yourselves. We’re not going to help you.’ ”

For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan, interview. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Emission Cuts Will Fail. What to Do Then?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date February 17, 2023, and has the title “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Emission Cuts Will Fail to Stop Climate Change. What to Do Then?”)

Funding People Instead of Projects Allows Researchers to Nimbly Pivot in the Light of Unexpected Discoveries

(p. A2) Patrick Collison, the Irish-born co-founder of payments technology company Stripe Inc., has spent a lot of the past five years pondering the problem of declining scientific productivity.

. . .

Clearly, scientific productivity has something to do with how research is done, not how much. One culprit, in the view of Mr. Collison and many others, is that the institutions that fund science have become process-oriented, narrow-minded and risk-averse. Wary of failure, they favor established researchers pursuing narrowly focused, incremental ideas over younger scientists with more heterodox agendas.

. . .

Yet Mr. Collison criticizes the federal government for failing to bring a much deeper and eager pool of talent to bear on a multitude of pandemic challenges. Top virologists “were stuck on hold, waiting for decisions about whether they could repurpose their existing funding for this exponentially growing catastrophe,” he wrote in an essay last year with George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen, and University of California, Berkeley bioengineering professor Patrick Hsu.

Sensing a need, the three in April, 2020 launched Fast Grants, $10,000 to $500,000 awards funded primarily by private donors and approved in 14 days or less.

. . .

When Messrs. Collison, Cowen and Tsu surveyed their recipients about their experiences with traditional funding, 57% told them they spent more than a quarter of their time on grant applications and 78% said they would change their research program a lot if they weren’t constrained in how they spent their current funding.

This reinforces a key insight from metascience, also known as the science of science, namely the value of curiosity-driven research. Heidi Williams, an economist at Stanford University and director of science policy at the Institute for Progress, said grants typically commit a scholar to complete a specific project, even if during the research the project proves less promising than expected.

. . .

In a 2009 paper, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Pierre Azoulay and his co-authors demonstrated the benefits of funding people over projects. Researchers backed by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which takes such an approach, produce far more widely cited papers—a metric of significance—than similar researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health. Drawing on those lessons, last year, Mr. Collison co-founded the Arc Institute to pre-fund scientists studying complex human diseases for renewable eight-year terms.

For the full commentary, see:

Greg Ip. “CAPITAL ACCOUNT; To Boost Growth, Rethink Science Funding.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Nov. 18, 2022): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 17, 2022, and has the title “CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Stagnant Scientific Productivity Holding Back Growth.”)

The published version of Azoulay’s co-authored 2009 NBER working paper, mentioned above, is:

Azoulay, Pierre, Joshua S. Graff Zivin, and Gustavo Manso. “Incentives and Creativity: Evidence from the Academic Life Sciences.” RAND Journal of Economics 42, no. 3 (Fall 2011): 527-54.

A Dog (But Not A.I.) Can Put Together What It Learns in Two Separate Contexts, and Apply It in a Third Context

(p. 6) . . . an engineer named Blake Lemoine . . . worked on artificial intelligence at Google, specifically on software that can generate words on its own — what’s called a large language model. He concluded the technology was sentient; his bosses concluded it wasn’t.

. . .

There is no evidence this technology is sentient or conscious — two words that describe an awareness of the surrounding world.

That goes for even the simplest form you might find in a worm, said Colin Allen, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who explores cognitive skills in both animals and machines. “The dialogue generated by large language models does not provide evidence of the kind of sentience that even very primitive animals likely possess,” he said.

Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology who is part of the A.I. research group at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed. “The computational capacities of current A.I. like the large language models,” she said, “don’t make it any more likely that they are sentient than that rocks or other machines are.”

. . .

(p. 7) “A conscious organism — like a person or a dog or other animals — can learn something in one context and learn something else in another context and then put the two things together to do something in a novel context they have never experienced before,” Dr. Allen of the University of Pittsburgh said. “This technology is nowhere close to doing that.”

For the full story, see:

Cade Metz. “A.I. Does Not Have Thoughts, No Matter What You Think.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, August 7, 2022): 6-7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 11 [sic.], 2022, and has the title “A.I. Is Not Sentient. Why Do People Say It Is?”)