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Non-human Cognition


Admission requirements

Bachelor degree (completed)


Recent advances in AI have seen remarkable progress, with unprecedented improvements on many complex tasks. This has in turn resulted in a massive increase in speculations on what such novel systems might be capable of, up to the point where even an AI engineer believed their own technology had become sentient or conscious. This raises more basic questions such as what it actually means to be sentient or conscious and how non-humans can be properly tested for fundamental aspects of human thinking. These kinds of questions have been studied extensively for decades in the field of animal cognition, which investigates the mental processes and abilities of non-human animals. By exploring the depths of animal cognition research and applying its principles to AI systems, this course aims to inspire students to think beyond conventional testing methods, fostering the development of AI systems with appropriate cognitive abilities.

How do we test for complex intelligent abilities in our minds, and do these tests also apply to minds that are quite different from our own, like that of an octopus or AI system? To what extent can we find parallels for complex human behavior in non-human beings, both 'in vivo' and 'in silico'? In what ways can complex cognition be operationalized and implemented in machines? Topics such as creativity, the emergence of culture, social learning, symbolic representation, communication, theory of mind and consciousness will be addressed using data on various species including birds, primates, dolphins and more.

We will read and discuss literature on animal and computational cognition and gain hands-on practice with a small research project, involving the writing of a proposal and the design and presentation of a scientific poster, which will be displayed at a poster festival in the last weeks of the course.

Course objectives

  • To provide students with a comprehensive understanding of animal cognition research, including key theories, experimental methodologies, and major findings.

  • To help understand interpretations of non-human behavior in the light of the tension between human-centeredness and anthropomorphism

  • To critically analyze the parallels between animal cognition and AI, identifying areas of convergence and divergence.

  • To develop students' ability to design and conduct experiments that investigate complex cognitive behaviors in AI systems, drawing inspiration from animal cognition research.

  • To develop students' ability to write an academic research proposal and create and present a scientific poster in the area of complex cognition in AI systems.

  • To encourage students to think creatively and propose innovative approaches to testing for complex cognitive behaviors in AI systems, leveraging insights from animal cognition research.


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Mode of instruction

Lecture, Online and in-class discussions, Research project, Poster festival

Assessment method

  • assignments (pass/fail)

  • individually written proposal (50%)

  • poster presentation in groups (50%)

The assignments consist of online discussion forum participation in certain weeks and a peer-review poster evaluation at the end of the course, which all have to be completed (pass) to pass the course.

The grade for both the proposal and the poster presentation should be 5.5 or higher in order to complete the course. If one of the parts is not completed, the grade for that component is 0. The proposal and poster have a re-sit opportunity (a later submission/presentation). The maximum grade for a re-sit is 6 for both components.

Reading list

The reading consists of papers which need to be read before each class. Links to the reading are provided through Blackboard.


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Contact the lecturer(s) for course specific questions, and the programme's coordinator for questions regarding admission and/or registration.


Elective, external and exchange students (other than Media Technology students) need to be admitted to the course before registration due to limited capacity. Contact the programme's coordinator to request admission; include a short description of your course interest and state your current study programme in your correspondence.