, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 199-211
Date: 18 Oct 2003

The Ai project: historical and ecological contexts

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

This paper aims to review a long-term research project exploring the chimpanzee mind within historical and ecological contexts. The Ai project began in 1978 and was directly inspired by preceding ape-language studies conducted in Western countries. However, in contrast with the latter, it has focused on the perceptual and cognitive capabilities of chimpanzees rather than communicative skills between humans and chimpanzees. In the original setting, a single chimpanzee faced a computer-controlled apparatus and performed various kinds of matching-to-sample discrimination tasks. Questions regarding the chimpanzee mind can be traced back to Wolfgang Koehler’s work in the early part of the 20th century. Yet, Japan has its unique natural and cultural background: it is home to an indigenous primate species, the Japanese snow monkey. This fact has contributed to the emergence of two previous projects in the wild led by the late Kinji Imanishi and his students. First, the Koshima monkey project began in 1948 and became famous for its discovery of the cultural propagation of sweet-potato washing behavior. Second, pioneering work in Africa, starting in 1958, aimed to study great apes in their natural habitat. Thanks to the influence of these intellectual ancestors, the present author also undertook the field study of chimpanzees in the wild, focusing on tool manufacture and use. This work has demonstrated the importance of social and ecological perspectives even for the study of the mind. Combining experimental approaches with a field setting, the Ai project continues to explore cognition and behavior in chimpanzees, while its focus has shifted from the study of a single subject toward that of the community as a whole.