Archie the bird did have a wee bit of a head start over our human volunteer in this experiment! We worked with Lloyd, Archie’s human handler, in the couple of weeks before the lecture,to see if Archie could be trained to recognise a pattern, in this case, whether he could be trained to pick up on a pattern. Lloyd would offer Archie a number of different coloured pots and the food would always be in the yellow pot. After just a few meals, Archie would go straight to the yellow pot and so had learnt through reinforcement learning which pots would contain food. So it was a little mean of us pitting our human volunteer against Archie as Archie had a head start in learning the pattern.
This experiment was inspired by research at the University of Iowa where pigeons has been trained to detect breast cancer cells with an incredibly high accuracy rate of up to 95%. In similar research at the University of Keio in Japan, pigeons had also been able to distinguish between the artworks of Monet and Picasso using this same idea of reinforcement learning!