Study Finds That Pigeons May Be as Smart as AI

Pigeons use the same type of learning methods as artificial intelligence.

Mar 9, 2023


Study, Wildlife
Study Finds That Pigeons May Be as Smart as AI | Pigeons use the same type of learning methods as artificial intelligence.

From ChatGPT to Watson, artificial intelligences that are run on computers are changing the way people live their lives. As it turns out however, computers share their learning skills with a very unlikely peer; pigeons. 

Bird brain is now a compliment 
Pigeons and computers have more in common than one might think according to a recent  study done by researchers at the University of Iowa. That's because both AIs and pigeons use what is called associative learning in order to solve problems.

Ed Wasserman, professor of experimental psychology in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Iowa and the study’s corresponding author, told Iowa Now, “The pigeons are like AI masters. They’re using a biological algorithm, the one that nature has given them, whereas the computer is using an artificial algorithm that humans gave them.” 

A terribly frustrating puzzle
In order to study how pigeons think and problem solve, the researchers devised a puzzle that would be “terribly frustrating” to humans, but as it turns out, not so very frustrating to pigeons, reported Inverse.

 The birds were given visual stimuli with similar patterns and had to press one of two buttons to sort the stimuli into groups. If they sorted the stimulus correctly, they would get a treat, if they didn’t, they got nothing.

When faced with this challenge the pigeons did what pigeons did best, they tried and tried again until they got it right. Eventually, the pigeons reached about 70 percent accuracy on the challenge, reported Iowa News.  

“These stimuli are special. They don’t look like one another, and they’re never repeated,” Wasserman told Iowa News; “You have to memorize the individual stimuli or regions from where the stimuli occur in order to do the task.” 

This made the challenge difficult for humans because of its arbitrariness. There were no rules or logic to it. People, who are used to declarative learning, would probably simply give up 

So what does that have to do with artificial intelligence? Well, as Inverse pointed out, machine learning is essentially associative learning, and computers, robots and other AIs do pretty much the same thing that pigeons do to solve a problem, just on a much larger scale: they try and try again, until they get it right.

All of this, of course, is not to say that pigeons are smarter or even as smart as computers. Pigeons probably do not have the mental capacity to store as much information as do computers. However, despite the differences in capacity, the learning process is much the same for the two entities, and that is truly fascinating. 

The  research from University of Iowa is a testament to the fact that there is a lot to learn from the natural world. Understanding how animals think can lead to new insights even in the most complicated of fields.  

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Tiki is a freelance writer, editor, and translator with a passion for writing stories. She believes in taking small actions to positively impact the world. She spends her free time reading, baking, creating art, and walking her rescue dog.