My wife has acquired a flock of 8 chickens. As a city boy, I find this weird, but she is a farm girl and she loves chickens. I don’t mind the fresh eggs anyhow.
So, I found myself wondering about chicken intelligence. As I look at the chickens, I find myself curious about building a chicken AI. There has been so much over hype about the imminent AI taking over the world, so I thought about what we might have to do that to build a chicken AI, that is, a computer that was as smart as a chicken.
There are 8 chickens on our land. One avoids all the others. Let’s call it the autistic chicken. My wife informs me that there is a dominant chicken. One of the perks of being the dominant chicken is getting to sleep on the highest rung of the coop. (I don’t know why this matters to the chicken — this never came up in Brooklyn when I was growing up.) The chickens like to hang out together (except for the autistic one). Why I come by they all try to be close to me., I don’t know why. I am not feeding them so it has nothing to do with food. I do make chicken noises at them, and they make them back until I go away.
So, what would be going on in the mind of a chicken?
From Modern Farmer:
Purpose of the Pecking Order
Pecking order rank determines the order in which chickens are allowed to access food, water, and dust-bathing areas. It determines who gets the most comfortable nesting boxes and the best spots on the roosting bar. The good news is that, at least among a flock of chickens born and raised together, the pecking order is established early on and the birds live in relative harmony, with only minor skirmishes now and then to reinforce who is in charge.
The chicken at the top of pecking order has a special role to play in the flock. Because they are so strong and healthy, it’s their responsibility to keep constant watch for predators and usher the others to safety when a circling hawk appears or a strange rustling is heard in the bushes nearby. The top chicken is also expected to be an expert at sniffing out food sources, such as a nest of tasty grubs under a fallen log, or a bunch of kitchen scraps that the farmer dropped on their way to the compost pile. Even though the top chicken has the right to eat first, he or she usually lets the others feed, while keeping a vigilant watch for predators, and dines only after everyone else has had their fill.
Certainly a chicken has clear needs and it tries to figure out a way to get what it wants. This is a simple idea but one that is way beyond any AI program that is out there today. No one told the chicken which needs to have. It just has them. It wasn’t programmed by a human to have those needs. And, no one told the chicken how to get its needs fulfilled. And, no one told the autistic chicken to avoid all other chickens most of the time. So while you can get a computer to do these things, what we cannot do, at least not yet, is to get computers to generate their own needs and to figure out ways to fulfill them. The reason for that is that thinking requires observation, copying, the weighing of the pros and cons of various behaviors, and learning from the results. And you also have to figure out when the pecking order has been established and it is time to give up trying to better your position.
Chickens clearly have a rich sensory system, so much of what they “figure out” would come from what they see and feel. When ELIZA responds to someone saying they are feeling sad with “why are you feeling sad?” it is not relying on much cognitive power. A person who know who he or she was talking with, would sense the sadness and possibly be able to know where it was coming from, so it might respond “ you have simply got to get over her.”
The lesson here for AI is simple enough. The chickens are reasoning from data but probably not using statistics to do it. The chickens can copy behaviour and they can try things out to see if they work and then know what has and has not worked and get smarter from experience. Awareness of the world around you and sensing who might do what, matters a great deal.
Will AI be able to do this someday? I assume so. We are not there yet however.
The chickens come to visit my foot:
The autistic chicken: