In a recent study, pigeons—which are frequently undervalued for their intellect—once again surprised researchers by pointing out fascinating similarities between the principles driving artificial intelligence (AI) and their learning process. This study disproves the notion that pigeons are stupid birds, according to psychology professor Brandon Turner of Ohio State University.
The study involved 24 pigeons, a species that often frequents parking lots and other urban areas, where their less-than-astute reputation seems justified. These pigeons were presented with visual stimuli, including various shapes, concentric rings, and sectioned rings. Their task was to associate each stimulus with the correct category and peck a corresponding button to receive a food reward.
The study’s underlying methods—rather than merely the pigeons’ capacity for learning—were especially intriguing. It was discovered by the researchers that pigeons learned through associative learning. Pigeons learned by making simple associations between stimuli and categories through trial and error, as opposed to developing intricate rules. The pigeons’ increased accuracy over the subsequent trials showed how effective their learning process was.
In the easiest experiments, pigeons improved from an average of 55% to an impressive 95% accuracy. Even in the more challenging tasks, they showed significant progress, going from 55% to 68%. This approach, characterized by its simplicity and reliance on associative learning, proved more efficient than the complex rule-based learning employed by humans.
The researchers also used an artificial intelligence model, which shared commonalities with the pigeons’ learning approach. Like the pigeons, the AI model improved its performance over time by associating stimuli with categories. This similarity in learning mechanisms highlights the intriguing convergence between pigeon learning and AI techniques, indicating that nature has devised an efficient form of learning that lacks the human ability to generalize or extrapolate.
While the study has some limitations, it opens doors for further investigation into the neurobiology of pigeons and their unique learning processes. These findings remind us that intelligence exists in various forms, and even the seemingly “dim-witted” pigeons possess remarkable abilities. In our quest to understand intelligence, we can learn valuable lessons from the humble pigeon and the machines we create in our image.