Brainy birds

first_img Bird’s mastery of feat may hold insights for machine learning, study suggests The parrot knows shapes Related Usually, calling someone a bird-brain is meant as an insult, but an African grey parrot named Griffin is rewriting the rules when it comes to avian intelligence.A new study shows the African grey can perform some cognitive tasks at levels beyond that of 5-year-old humans. The results not only suggest that humans aren’t the only species capable of making complex inferences, but also point to flaws in a widely used test of animal intelligence. The study is described in a November paper published online in Behaviour.  The paper arose from a collaboration among cognitive psychologists Irene Pepperberg, a research associate in Harvard’s Psychology Department; Francesca Cornero ’19; Suzanne Gray, A.L.B. ’15, now the manager of the Alex Foundation at the Pepperberg Lab; and developmental psychologists Susan Carey, the Henry A. Morss Jr. and Elisabeth W. Morss Professor of Psychology, and Shilpa Mody, Ph.D. ’16.The classic study uses a two-cup test. A reward is hidden in one of two cups; subjects are then shown that one cup is empty, and those that successfully choose the other cup are thought to employ a process known as “inference by exclusion” — reasoning that the reward is in cup A or B; if it is not in A, it must be in B.For years, researchers have argued that young children, including infants as young as 17 months, and animals from a wide number of species, including grey parrots, understand this process.“This is really about logic,” Pepperberg said. “In the wild, nonhumans must make these kinds of choices when they decide on things like, ‘Where should I forage? I saw other creatures eating food in this area. … If there’s nothing right here, I should deduce that something is nearby.’”But what’s important about this study is not just that Griffin is, in some ways, as smart as a 5-year-old, but, said Pepperberg, “We also argue that this two-cup task, which has been the gold standard, only tells you about a certain level of ability. If you really want to study inference by exclusion, you have to go to the more complicated three- and four-cup tasks.”Based on Carey and Mody’s notion that the two-cup task wasn’t an effective test of human cognition — that subjects could be choosing that B cup simply by default, not because they think the reward must be there — Pepperberg, Gray, and Cornero decided to put Griffin’s apparent smarts to the test.Designed to add a wrinkle to the two-cup task, the more complex tests work like this: For the three-cup test, one reward is hidden in a single cup, and another is placed in one of two additional cups to one side of the first cup. When faced with a choice, participants should pick the single cup, as it is the only cup guaranteed to have a reward. This task doesn’t test inference by exclusion, but does test understanding of certainty versus mere possibility — a precursor to exclusion.Tests have shown that, until they reach about 2 and a half years old, young children fail at similar tasks. The same goes for apes. But Griffin outperformed even 5-year-olds.The four-cup test works similarly: Rewards are placed in one cup of each pair, then one cup in a pair is shown to be empty. Successful subjects will then pick the other cup in that pair, understanding that it must hold the reward, and that they have only a 50-50 chance of finding the reward in the other pair. Two-and-a-half-year-old children again fail, showing that they do not fully understand inference by exclusion.,Though Griffin passed both tests with flying colors, Pepperberg, Cornero, and Gray wanted to be sure he hadn’t simply learned to choose whichever cup was next to the empty one, so they designed a series of additional trials to test this possibility.“Basically, we forced him to gamble,” Pepperberg said. “For a small percentage of trials, we would put nothing on one side and show him an empty cup on that side … so he if wanted a reward, and understood the system, he’d know that now he couldn’t go to the cup next to the empty one; instead he’d have to gamble on the 50-50 side. And he hated it, but he did it on all the trials in the subset.”The trio even developed a test in which he had the choice between the guaranteed small reward of a nut or, in a small percentage of trials, gambling and potentially receiving one of his favorite treats — a Skittle.“We wanted to make sure he wasn’t just avoiding the empty side completely … and, again, that he didn’t always pick the cup next to the one that was empty,” Pepperberg said. “If he wanted that very special candy, he’d have to go to the 50-50 side. A good-enough percentage of the time, he gambled. But what was interesting was that if he lost, he wouldn’t gamble on the next trial.”Ultimately, Pepperberg said, tests like these don’t only reveal the intelligence of birds like Griffin, but also help shed light on the roots of human intelligence.“Birds are separated from us by 300 million years of evolution, and their brains are organized differently than ours,” Pepperberg said. “That’s why this was so exciting — because we were able to show that Griffin was working at the level of a 5-year-old, on a task at which even apes would not likely succeed.”This research was supported with funding from the James S. McDonnell Foundation and donors to the Alex Foundation. Polly want a vocabulary? Researchers’ African grey parrot puts (young) humans to shame in volume-focused testscenter_img Fair-minded birds Researcher explores origins of intelligence by working with parrots Research shows sharing tendencies in parrots Discerning birdlast_img read more

CWI vice-president gives administration passing grade

first_imgBRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) – Cricket West Indies (CWI) vice-president Dr Kishore Shallow has given the organisation’s administration a passing grade for its first year in office, pointing to improvements in just about all areas of the 10-point plan which the Ricky Skerritt-led team had used as a platform for election.Among the biggest achievements, Dr Shallow said, have been an improvement in team selection which has boosted players’ confidence in getting a fair chance to represent West Indies, and a better relationship with CWI stakeholders.Last March, the Skerritt-Shallow team defeated incumbent Dave Cameron and his running mate Emmanuel Nathan to take over the CWI leadership. They had presented a ‘Cricket First Plan’ to revitalise West Indies cricket, that promised: the creation of a cricket-centric organisational culture; optimum use of technology for greater effectiveness; increased investment in grassroots cricket; enhancement of the franchise system; modernisation of coaching education; increased exposure for Under-23 and Under-19 players; re-evaluation of system of team selection; repair of stakeholder relations; decentralisation of High Performance system; and utilisation of regional technical expertise.Speaking on the Mason & Guest radio show here on Tuesday night, Dr Shallow said the administration had made some progress in those areas.“We have touched on just about all of these points,” he said. “In West Indies cricket, over the years, we have had quite a few hurdles that we have to jump over and bearing all that in mind, I think we have done a fairly good job for the last 12 months.”Among the areas he gave his team kudos for was revamping the selection process.“This is one of the successes,” he said. “We have seen players have increased confidence in our system again and players believe that they are now selected more on merit and are putting up their hands, as Jermaine Blackwood, as Hayden Walsh, and other players have done.”Dr Shallow also saw the CWI’s utilisation of regional experts as an accomplishment.Seven months after the new administration took office, Phil Simmons, who had been sacked by the Cameron-led CWI, was brought back as West Indies head coach.That, said Dr Shallow, plus the inclusion of other former cricketers Floyd Reifer, Kenny Benjamin, Gus Logie and Courtney Walsh in the coaching staff, and the involvement of Joel Garner, Brian Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan in West Indies camps last year demonstrated the CWI’s commitment to improving the game.Addressing the modernisation of the coaching system, he pointed out that CWI had hired a specialist in development coaching, Australian Chris Brabazon, as its first-ever coach education manager. The former Western Australian Cricket Association coach development manager signed a three-year deal and began work last December.“He has been making some progress so far,” Dr Shallow said.The CWC vice-president also pointed to improved relationships with players, regional governments and the media, saying, “all of our stakeholders are equally important to us”.Speaking specifically about the promise to create a cricket-centric organisational culture, he said CWI has been able to fulfil its promise to move players “to the top of the priority ladder”.He said while the four-year cricket calendar would be affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has forced cancellations and postponements in the sport, CWI now “has a guide to work with”.Dr Shallow also pointed to CWI’s increased use of technology: “We have been using Zoom and the Internet generally, to facilitate meetings and reduce our expenses, being more cost effective. We have a selection analyst being more analytical,” he reported.As for increased investment in grassroots, he said that was a work in progress.“We have started the dialogue with the governments across the region and what we are saying is ‘let us hold hands in improving cricket, in developing grassroots cricket’ and we expect them to invest as Cricket West Indies intend to do, but we have to do this together.And, quite frankly, they’ve been quite receptive to the idea. We have had a few discussions with Prime Ministers across the region and we intend to have a meeting with the other Prime Ministers at some point over the next two months,” he said.Addressing the enhancement of the franchise system, the vice-president said one of the achievements has been getting players at that level to realise that they are professionals as well as to understand what is expected of them as far as fitness was concerned.“We have seen an improved fitness. They have been responding positively to the call of fitness,” Dr Shallow said.The number two at CWI said the organisation was fully committed to doing what it was voted in to do.“We continue to address all the items on our 10-point plan and we are using this as a guide to ensure that we keep performing,” he said.last_img read more