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     To call someone 'bird-brained' means you think that the person is silly or stupid. But will this description soon disappear from use in the light of recent research? It seems the English may have been unfair in associating birds' brains with stupidity.
      In an attempt to find out how different creatures see the world psychologists at Brown University in the USA have been comparing the behaviour of birds and humans. One experiment has involved teaching pigeons to recognize letters of the English alphabet. The birds study in 'classrooms', which are boxes equipped with a computer. After about four days of studying a particular letter, the pigeon has to pick out that letter from several displayed on the computer screen. Three male pigeons have learnt to distinguish all twenty-six letters of the alphabet in this way.
     A computer record of the birds' four-month study period has shown surprising similarities between the pigeons' and human performance. Pigeons and people find the same letters easy, or hard, to tell apart. For example, 92 per cent of the time the pigeons could tell the letter D from the letter Z. But when confronted with U and V (often confused by English children), the pigeons were right only 34 per cent of the time.
     The results of the experiments so far have led psychologist Donald Blough to conclude that 'pigeons and humans perceive in similar ways. This suggests that there is something fundamental about the pattern recognition process'. If scientists could only discover just what this pattern recognition process is, it could be very useful for computer designers. This advantage of a present day computer is that it can only do what a human being has programmed it to do, and the programmer must give the computer precise, logical instructions. Maybe in the future, though, computers will be able to think like human beings.

 Arthur Conway from "BBC English"

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