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Study Reveals Pigeons Can Problem-Solve Just As Well As Artificial Intelligence

a statue with a pigeon

How smart are pigeons? About as smart about the current state of artificial intelligence, according to this new report.

A new study published in iScience reveals that the winged creatures, unfairly maligned by people everywhere, have similar problem-solving abilities as AI. Incredible, right?

To be honest, while reading the study, it does seem pigeons could be even better than us at captchas!

From a report in The Guardian:

“In the study, 24 pigeons were given a variety of visual tasks, some of which they learned to categorize in a matter of days, and others in a matter of weeks. The researchers found evidence that the mechanism that pigeons used to make correct choices is similar to the method that AI models use to make the right predictions. “Pigeon behavior suggests that nature has created an algorithm that is highly effective in learning very challenging tasks,” said Edward Wasserman, study co-author and professor of experimental psychology at the University of Iowa. “Not necessarily with the greatest speed, but with great consistency.”

On a screen, pigeons were shown different stimuli, like lines of different width, placement and orientation, as well as sectioned and concentric rings. Each bird had to peck a button on the right or left to decide which category they belonged to. If they got it correct, they got food, in the form of a pellet; if they got it wrong, they got nothing. “Pigeons don’t need a rule,” said Brandon Turner, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University. Instead they learn through trial and error. For example, when they were given a visual, say “category A”, anything that looked close to that they also classified as “category A”, tapping into their ability to identify similarities.

Over the course of the experiments, pigeons improved their ability to make right choices from 55% to 95% of the time when it came to some of the simpler tasks. Presented with a more complex challenge, their accuracy went up from 55% to 68%. In an AI model, the main goal is to recognize patterns and make decisions. Pigeons, as research shows, can do the same. Learning from consequences, when not given a food pellet, pigeons have a remarkable ability to correct their errors. Similarity function is also at play for pigeons, by using their ability to find resemblance between two objects. “With just those two mechanisms alone, you can define a neural network or an artificial intelligent machine to basically solve these categorization problems,” said Turner. “It stands to reason that the mechanisms that are present in the AI are also present in the pigeon.”

Perhaps the next time you’re thinking about installing anti-pigeon spikes or see some installed by your city, you can do something about it. We do know pigeons are capable of terrible revenge, so why not make friends? They’re as cute as any other bird, anyway!

If you want to know more about these fascinating creatures and read the study, you can find it here.

Also read: Are We on the Cusp of an AI-Powered Renewable Energy Revolution?

Image by Éva Zara on Pixabay

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