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Pigeons Approach Problem-Solving Similarly to Artificial Intelligence

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Pigeons have long had a bad rap. People in city centers and park enthusiasts often label them as urban pests, leaving droppings all over the place. However, a groundbreaking study has uncovered their astonishing problem-solving abilities, which remarkably resemble the way artificial intelligence (AI) operates. These birds are not just avian annoyances; they’re highly intelligent creatures that can give AI a run for its money.

In a recent study, pigeons were put to the test, tasked with various visual challenges, and their success left scientists astounded. This research shows that pigeons may hold the secret to understanding how AI learns and makes predictions, making us question our assumptions about these seemingly ordinary birds.

Pigeon Intelligence: Beyond the Feathered Exterior

The popular saying “bird-brained” should no longer be an insult. Pigeons have an array of remarkable talents that make them a force to be reckoned with in the animal kingdom.

  1. Facial Recognition: Pigeons can remember faces! Yes, you heard that right. These seemingly oblivious birds can recognize individuals, a skill that comes in handy when navigating the crowded city streets.
  2. Color Vision: Pigeons see the world in vivid colors. They can perceive a spectrum that includes ultraviolet light, a skill most humans can only dream of.
  3. Navigation Masters: Pigeons are natural navigators. They can find their way home even if they are released hundreds of miles away. This remarkable skill has been harnessed for centuries, using pigeons to carry messages across long distances.
  4. Life Savers: Believe it or not, pigeons have saved lives. They’ve been heroes in times of war, delivering vital messages that couldn’t be trusted to technology.

So, the next time you see a pigeon strutting down the sidewalk, don’t underestimate its intelligence!

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Pigeon Problem-Solving vs. AI: Surprising Parallels

The study in question involved 24 pigeons and a series of visual tasks. Some tasks were quick to learn, taking just a few days, while others required several weeks of practice. What researchers discovered was nothing short of astonishing.

Learning by Trial and Error

“Pigeons don’t need a rule,” says Brandon Turner, lead author of the study. Instead, they learn through trial and error. For example, if they were given a visual cue, let’s say “category A,” anything remotely similar to that cue, they also classified as “category A.” It’s as if they’re saying, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!”

Astonishing Progress

Over the course of the experiments, pigeons’ accuracy in making the right choices soared from 55% to a whopping 95% for simpler tasks. Even when faced with more complex challenges, their accuracy shot up from 55% to 68%. That’s a remarkable improvement by any standard!

It’s as if pigeons are showing us that they can adapt, learn, and master challenges, much like AI algorithms do. They are problem solvers with a feathered twist!

The Role of Association

Onur Güntürkün, a professor of behavioral neuroscience, points out that using humble animals like pigeons provides insight into the power of associative systems. Pigeons, it seems, have cognition-like abilities, bridging the gap between mere association and true cognition.

AI and Pigeons: Similar Mechanisms

@Satdeep Gill

In the world of artificial intelligence, the main goal is to recognize patterns and make decisions based on those patterns. As the research demonstrates, pigeons can do just that. They learn from the consequences of their actions, just like a well-programmed AI algorithm.

Learning from Consequences

When pigeons don’t receive a food pellet as a reward, they possess a remarkable ability to correct their errors. It’s a lesson in resilience we can all learn from, demonstrating that mistakes can be our greatest teachers.

The Power of Similarity

What’s even more fascinating is the role of similarity in pigeon problem-solving. These birds have an incredible knack for finding resemblances between two objects, a function that plays a pivotal role in their decision-making process.

Brandon Turner emphasizes this by stating, “With just those two mechanisms alone, you can define a neural network or an artificial intelligent machine to basically solve these categorization problems. It stands to reason that the mechanisms present in AI are also present in pigeons.”

In other words, pigeons are like the OG (Original Gangsters) of AI problem-solving!

Practical Applications and a Glimpse into Pigeon Brains

Now that we know pigeons are problem-solving wizards, what’s next? Researchers aim to collaborate with scientists who specialize in studying pigeons and their brains. They’re on a quest to uncover practical applications for this newfound knowledge.

Edward Wasserman, co-author of the study and a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Iowa, puts it humorously but eloquently, “Maybe we can get some further insight into what is going on in that little bird brain. It’s a damn good brain – it may be small in size, but they pack a punch when it comes to the capacity to learn.”

Understanding how pigeons problem-solve might also help us better comprehend and potentially treat human brain damage. So, these seemingly common birds may hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of our own minds.


The next time you spot a pigeon perched on a streetlight, consider this: these unassuming birds are not just pests; they’re geniuses in their own right. Their problem-solving prowess, revealed in the recent study, mirrors the mechanisms that underlie artificial intelligence. Pigeons have taught us that learning from consequences and identifying similarities are the key to effective problem-solving, and this knowledge may have profound implications for AI and human cognition.

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