Re: Why not Planet of the Apes

Brian D Williams (
Mon, 9 Jun 1997 08:47:16 -0700 (PDT)

On Sun, 8 Jun 1997, Sean Morgan wrote:

>> I once read about an Australian pharmaceutical company that used
>>pigeons to sort pills, conditioned to hit a button when they saw
>>one of the right color. Supposedly the ASPCA had them replace
>>the pigeon with a human.

Anders Sandberg comments:

>Hmm, this could be a distorted version of the real work done by
>Skinner in WWII project ORCON (ORganic CONtrol), where pigeons
>were trained for missile control! Pigeons were trained to peck at
>a screen when an enemy ship appeared on it, and an electrode on
>the beak would make it possible to register the exact location of
>the peck, making it possible to fire a missile towards the ship.
>Skinner showed that the pigeons could learn to distinguish
>friendly ships from enemy ships. However, as my psychology
>textbook put it: "However, the American military showed some
>concern at arming a flock of pigeons with enough explosives to
>wipe out the whole American fleet, so the pigeon pilots never had
>a chance to show their military skills".

I believe Sean has this right, I remember reading this also. The
pigeons were working on an assembly line that manufactured gelatin
capsules, they were being trained to recognize deformed capsules
called "skags" as I recall and peck the appropriate button. The
health concerns about the pigeons doomed the project.

>It almost sounds like an urban legend, but it is apparently true
>(below is the reference given in _Psychology: Theory &
>by Banyard and Hayes)

>Skinner, B.F. (1960), Pigeons in a Pelican, American Psychologist,
>15, 28-37