Pigeons solve problems the same way AI does, study says

A head shot of a pretty Woodpidgeonsandra standbridge/Getty Images
  • The way pigeons problem solve is very similar to AI, researchers say.

  • Pigeons use the same "brute force" method often seen in artificial intelligence.

  • Researchers found that this method helps pigeons perform certain types of tasks even better than humans.

It turns out the "birds aren't real" people may have had a point after all.

Researchers at Ohio State University and the University of Iowa found that pigeons use a "brute force" method of problem-solving, similar to what is found in artificial intelligence, according to a news release.

Brandon Turner, a psychology professor at Ohio State, said researchers found "really strong evidence that the mechanisms guiding pigeon learning are remarkably similar to the same principles that guide modern machine learning and AI," according to the release.

Researchers showed the birds a stimulus, including lines of various widths, concentric rings, and sectioned rings, which the bird had to categorize by pecking a button on the left or right.  If it got the answer correct, it received a treat, the release says.

Through trial and error, the pigeons improved their performance from 55% to 95% correct answers in one easier task, according to the release. Researchers performed the same tests using AI and found the AI also learned to decrease its amount of mistakes.

The study, published in the journal IScience, says that pigeons have advanced cognitive and attentional processes and can solve an "exceptionally broad" range of categorization tasks

Turner said the findings indicate that pigeons are natural "incredibly efficient" learners who cannot generalize information the way humans can, according to the release.

According to Turner, pigeons use associative learning, which connects two things, such as dogs understanding that they will receive a treat when they sit. Typically, associative learning is thought to be "too primitive" to do things like visual categorization, Turner said in the release, but apparently not for pigeons.

The researchers said humans tend to give up on tasks like those given to the pigeons when they can't come up with rules to make sense of the tasks.

"Pigeons don't try to make rules. They just use this brute force way of trial and error and associative learning and in some specific types of tasks that helps them perform better than humans," Turner said.

He noted that humans often "celebrate how smart we are that we designed artificial intelligence; at the same time we disparage pigeons as dim-witted animals."

"But the learning principles that guide the behaviors of these AI machines are pretty similar to what pigeons use," Turner said.

Read the original article on Business Insider