Is advanced AI actually smart? ‘No, it’s using the same system as a pigeon’, study finds | Science & Tech News

The world’s best artificial intelligence (AI) is – at the most basic level – about as smart as a pigeon, new research suggests.

Having undertaken a deep study into the inner workings of the bird’s brain, researchers found that the “brute force” techniques they use to learn share similarities with AI.

Much like AI is taught to identify patterns and objects recognised by humans, the team at the University of Iowa discovered pigeons rely on a repetitive, trial-and-error approach.

Tests saw each pigeon shown a stimulus, each showing a different pattern, which the pigeons then had to categorise – by pecking one of two buttons.

They had to do so based on characteristics like line width, line angle, and how the patterns were arranged. A correct answer yielded a tasty pellet, but an incorrect response yielded nothing.

Eventually, the pigeons memorised enough of them to score almost 70%.

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“You hear all the time about the wonders of AI, all the amazing things that it can do,” said Professor Ed Wasserman, from the university’s psychology and brain sciences department.

“It can beat the pants off people playing chess, or at any video game, for that matter.

“How does it do it? Is it smart?

“No, it’s using the same system or an equivalent system to what the pigeon is using here.”

This way of learning through recognition is known as associative learning, whereas humans usually rely on declarative learning.

For example, most of us don’t need to touch a hot stove to know that it will hurt – whereas something that relies on associative learning would.

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Pigeons are ‘AI masters’

Hailing pigeons as “like AI masters”, Prof Wasserman said: “People are wowed by AI doing amazing things using a learning algorithm, much like the pigeon.

“When people talk about associative learning in humans and animals, it is discounted as rigid and unsophisticated.”

Of course, where computers can go beyond pigeons is in their enormous memory and storage capabilities, allowing them to store and process far more information than a pigeon brain could.

But at their core, the way they learn is much the same.

“They’re using a biological algorithm, the one that nature has given them,” added Prof Wasserman.

“Whereas the computer is using an artificial algorithm that humans gave them.”

The peer-reviewed study has been published in the journal Current Biology.

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