From the Vault – Murphy’s Law – Damn dirty apes

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

[Editor’s Note – This column originally ran Oct. 2, 2013.]

It’s over. We are all screwed.

Good science fiction exists to warn us about dangerous paths our society is headed down. And, as longtime readers know, I’ve long believed that the most dangerous path is the building of artificial intelligence. In the societal breakdown pool, I always bet on “overthrown by robots.”

But it turns out I may have been wrong. Instead of looking to The Matrix, Terminator and I, Robot as warnings, I should have been paying more attention to Planet of the Apes.

That’s right. Our new overlords won’t be metallic, they’ll be chimpanzees. (Unless, of course, the chimpanzees develop robots and we are all terrorized by robo-chimps, which are the thing that will now and forever be haunting my nightmares.)

Don’t believe me? Well then, allow me to direct your attention to a Huffington Post article this week entitled “Chimpanzees Beat Humans In Memory Tests.”

The article focuses on the research of Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a professor at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute in Inuyama, Japan, who has 30 years worth of data leading him to the conclusion that chimpanzees have better short-term memories than people.

Here’s an excerpt from one of Matsuzawa’s reports, which was filed in 2007:

Three adult female chimps, their three five-year-old offspring and university student volunteers were tested on their ability to memorize the numbers 1 to 9 appearing at random locations on a touchscreen monitor.

The chimps had previously been taught the ascending order of the numbers. Using an ability akin to photographic memory, the young chimps were able to memorize the location of the numerals with better accuracy than humans performing the same task.

That’s right. A five-year-old chimp is outperforming college students on memory tests. That can’t be a good thing.

But I know what you are thinking: “Sure, the chimps have better short-term memories, but we have iPhones and sports cars and George Foreman grills. Those damn, dirty apes have a long way to go before they catch up to us.”

If only that were true. But unfortunately, chimps kicking our ass at Concentration is only the beginning. While chimpanzees are getting smarter, human beings are getting dumber.

In November of last year, Standford University’s Dr. Gerald Crabtree published a study postulating that human beings are getting less intelligent over time and that our intelligence is incredibly vulnerable to mutation.

As TG Daily explains:

The discovery that our intelligence and emotional capabilities are coded for by thousands of genes makes them ‘fragile’, according to Dr. Gerald Crabtree of Stanford University.

Human intelligence and behaviour requires the optimal functioning of an estimated 2000-5000 genes. Crabtree’s theory is based on the idea that these genes are particularly vulnerable to mutations, and that our modern environment does not remove these mutations by natural selection. This means that our intelligence and emotional capabilities are expected to decrease over time as more mutations enter the genome.

“It is very likely that within 3000 years (~120 generations) we have all sustained two or more mutations harmful to our intellectual or emotional stability,” writes Crabtree in a study published in Trends in Genetics.

And while that is scary enough, add to it this little bit of research (as reported by The Guardian) and you can clearly see that our days are numbered:

Research emerging from the London School of Economics examining the links between intelligence and maternal urges in women claims that more of the former means less of the latter … Satoshi Kanazawa, the LSE psychologist behind the research, discussed the findings that maternal urges drop by 25 percent with every extra 15 IQ points in his book The Intelligence Paradox.

So, just to recap, mutations are causing human beings to get dumber, smart women are having less kids and chimpanzees are ahead of us in short-term memory. They already have opposable thumbs and can make tools. They are really only a generation or two from riding horses, blowing up the Statue of Liberty and systematically wiping us out.

Human beings have had a good run, but it’s over. It’s the chimps’ time now. I’m going to start stockpiling bananas, as I imagine they will become the currency of this inevitable new civilization. It ought to buy me some time, at least, and maybe score me a nicer cell at the human zoo.

Until the robo-chimps are developed, of course. Then I’m completely screwed.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at

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