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Math Science

Mathematical Parrot Reveals His Genius With Posthumous Paper 111

Posted by Soulskill
from the math-is-for-the-birds dept.
ananyo writes "Even in death, the world's most accomplished parrot continues to amaze. The final experiments involving Alex – a grey parrot trained to count objects – have just been published (abstract). They show that Alex could accurately add together Arabic numerals to a sum of eight, and correctly add three small sets of objects, putting his mathematical abilities on par with (and maybe beyond) those of chimpanzees and other non-human primates."
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Mathematical Parrot Reveals His Genius With Posthumous Paper

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  • by dutchwhizzman (817898) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @04:28PM (#39115495)
    Why wasn't that on Slashdot?
  • Parrots live very long lives, how tantalising to study what may have been a savant from another species that couldn't score with chicks but really great with maths.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @04:39PM (#39115707) Homepage
    Alex was clearly pretty smart. However, it is as yet still unclear if Alex was actually a representative parrot or was smarter than other parrots. A lot of the current work being done will help answer that. There's also some concern that some of the early experiments with Alex didn't adequately handle the Clever Hahns problem- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans [wikipedia.org] where an animal rather than give actual answers uses subtle cues from the examiner on how to answer correctly. The more recent experiments help address that. It seems clear at this point that Alex's intelligence, and that of the other African Greys, is genuine, but what the average is like is still unclear. One thing is certain though: the use of the word "parrot" to mean mindlessly repeat is deeply unfair.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      One thing is certain though: the use of the word "parrot" to mean mindlessly repeat is deeply unfair

      Shall we start using "FOX News fan" in place of parrot in the future?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Well, it would be more accurate.

    • by Tharsman (1364603) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @05:59PM (#39116889)

      I dare "blindly" guess Alex was an average African Grey. My mother happens to own one and it is honestly as smart as a very young child. It's hard to explain. He knows what kind of words use for anger, happiness, request food, denote you are eating (without requesting food for himself, and actually rejecting it, just because he noted you are eating does not mean he WANTS some,) dance, sing, laugh at jokes on the TV (i think it’s more a matter of intonation on that one than actually understanding the joke) and even tell the dog to get the hell away from him. That on top of many other tiny behavioral things.

      I think their learning is mostly hindered or boosted by their teacher. My mother is an elder woman, though, without much science or math skills to go trying to impart that knowledge on the bird.

      I can’t help but smile in amazement every other week for some new thing he reacts to intelligently.

      My doubt does not lie on them being able to learn, but instead being able to transfer knowledge to their children. It would take insane decades, but I would love to find a species in this planet we can teach to, that in turn teach their children the same skills.

    • by r1_97 (462992)

      We are bird breeders having several pairs of Greys. I've heard (hearsay) that Alex died from stress being pressured in learning tasks. Greys have learning abilities beyond other avian species and vary somewhat individually. This should be a lesson for tiger moms and other overly ambitious parents.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @04:41PM (#39115749) Journal

    That would've been even more impressive than his math abilities.

  • Polly wants a polynomial!
  • The bird doesn't have an Erdos number!

  • With time, the dinosaurs might have evolved to create civilization.
    • by sexconker (1179573) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @05:10PM (#39116211)

      With time, the dinosaurs might have evolved to create civilization.

      They actually had an advanced civilization but it collapsed. When the time came to actually DO something about the massive rock heading for the planet, they built a trajectory altering rocket that would land on the asteroid, dig itself in, and then fire its engines to steer the asteroid the necessary fraction of a degree away to save the planet.
      Unfortunately they used touch screens for everything (instead of keyboards and mice) to cater to the T-Rex crowd with their short arms. When it was time to launch, they futilely pawed at their dPads but they just couldn't get any actual work done.

      • by formfeed (703859)

        With time, the dinosaurs might have evolved to create civilization.

        They actually had an advanced civilization but it collapsed. When the time came to actually DO something about the massive rock heading for the planet, they built a trajectory altering rocket that would land on the asteroid .dig itself in, and then fire its engines to steer the asteroid the necessary fraction of a degree away to save the planet...

        +1 informative
        Because, I always thought it was the asteroid deniers that blocked funding for the project till it was too late.

    • by plopez (54068)

      For all we know they might have. They then created nuclear war and global climate change which led to their extinction.

  • so what's Alex's Erdös number then?
  • by goffster (1104287) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @04:50PM (#39115901)

    but only up to 8.

  • By the sound of things he would have done a better job than some humans Damaged US Passport Chip Strands Travelers [slashdot.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I read somewhere that eight seems to be the limit to the amount of objects that an animal can understand. After that point, it is all many objects. Actually, there seems to be an innate sense of basic arithmetic that even we as humans have. Test yourself on this...

    Take an unknown number of small objects such as marbles, quickly look at them and WITHOUT counting, guess how many there were. You will probably find that when there are eight or less objects, your guess is usually pretty good. For more than

  • and your average product of Australia's high schools.

  • by cyberchondriac (456626) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @05:35PM (#39116587) Journal
    Corvids are as, or may even be more, intelligent. There's the classic story of the Caledonian crow [wikipedia.org] who custom fashioned it's own tool to get at grubs, a trait previously only known to primates, to cite one example. Others abound, but I'm feeling too lazy right now to go hunt them down. Heckle and Jeckle would've outsmarted Wiley E. Coyote any day of the week.
  • Now your grad school adviser can look at your project and comment:
    "a dead parrot would have better chances of getting its paper accepted than you."

  • That was my first thought wen I read the headline, followed by "Publishing standards must be at a new low". That was then followed by "It's no where near April 1st".
    The I read the write up and realized how confused I was and, once again, how wonderfully ambiguous the English language can be. :)

  • by qualityassurancedept (2469696) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @09:52PM (#39119489) Journal
    Well, Alex can do sums up to 8 and so if we had 8 Alex's and an Meta-Alex that counted just Alex's and so on then you can see that we could build a quite complex Parrot Processor. This will come in handy in the post-apocalyptic world where there is no electricity but plenty of parrots because we will be able to construct vast turing machines that require nothing more than thousands of parrots and bird seed for power.
  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday February 21, 2012 @10:10PM (#39119653)

    ... a Poly-math.

    <rimshot/>

  • Has anyone wondered why the Arabs don't use 'Arabic Numerals'?

Air is water with holes in it.

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