Monday, March 3, 2008

paging tippi hedren

Mark Frauenfelder from boingboing is blogging the TED 2008 conference, and apologies for the massive cut and paste, but I feel the need to excerpt his entry on a fascinating presentation by technology hacker Joshua Klein. And crows.

...Klein built a vending machine that teaches crows to deposit coins they find into a special vending machine that dispenses peanuts. He has been studying crows for over ten years and has learned that they are very intelligent. Their brain/body weight ratios are similar to chimpanzees. He's showing a video of how a crow learned to use a tool to pull an object out of of a tube. It's impressive.

Crows are smart and adaptable. For example, they drop nuts on streets so cars run over them, then wait for the traffic signal to change so they can pick up the food. Other crows who see this happen quickly learn how to do this for themselves.

His machine uses Skinnerian training. He put coins and peanuts around the machine. The crows eat the peanut on the feeder tray. Then Joshua took away the nuts and left coins in the feeder tray. It pisses off the crows. They sweep the coins around with their beaks, looking for food. When a coin accidentally drops into the slot, it dispenses a peanut. Next, Joshua took away the coins. The crows learned to find coins elsewhere and deposit them.

Both very interesting and, for a genus which, when in a group, is referred to as a murder, absolutely terrifying. More info on the project can be found here.

UPDATE: A quick google search for Joshua Klein turns up this amazing/borderline precious image:

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