WHEN A1 PRESSES THE TOUCH -SENSITIVE COMPUTER SCREEN the Arabic numerals 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 pop up in random order. She correctly taps the numbers in ascending order, earning a handful of raisins as a reward. A1, a
chimpanzee, also reveals a lightning-fast short-term memory for numbers.
When white boxes mask the numerals right after each is displayed, she still strikes the boxes accurately—unlike some of the human volunteers who
take the test.
A1's videotaped demonstration, at a recent conference, is the culmination of two decades of work by Japanese researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University. Matsuzawa has been training and observing A1 since 1978. A1 proved to be a star pupil, and she and Matsuzawa get together almost daily for a mixture of play and research. The 30-year-old chimp participates most enthusiastically—as does her six-year-old son, Ayumu.
Humans can easily memorize small chunks of information, such as strings of numbers, a phenomenon that psychologist George A . Miller wrote about in his 1956 landmark paper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.
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