On The Applied Side The Pigeon As A Quality Control Inspector

In industrial settings, workers often are hired as quality control inspectors. Quality control usually is a monotonous job of checking samples of a product to identify any defects. The most important skills or attributes needed for such jobs are good visual acuity and color vision. Based on these visual requirements, Thom Verhave (1966) suggested to the

FIG. 8.14. Drawing depicts Verhave's (1966) discrimination procedures as described in the text. Pigeons were trained to inspect a line of drug capsules, accepting those that met a fixed standard and rejecting defective ones. From Behavior Principles, p. 558, by C. B. Ferster, S. Culbertson, and M. C. P. Boren, 1975, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, republished with permission. Copyright 1975, Pearson Education, Inc.

FIG. 8.14. Drawing depicts Verhave's (1966) discrimination procedures as described in the text. Pigeons were trained to inspect a line of drug capsules, accepting those that met a fixed standard and rejecting defective ones. From Behavior Principles, p. 558, by C. B. Ferster, S. Culbertson, and M. C. P. Boren, 1975, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, republished with permission. Copyright 1975, Pearson Education, Inc.

management of a drug company that the laboratory pigeon (Columba livia domestica) would be a cheap and efficient quality control inspector. Although skeptical, the director of research for the company gave Verhave the go-ahead to train pigeons as inspectors.

The procedures were similar to a matching to sample (identity matching) task. Pigeons were trained to inspect a line of drug capsules, accepting those that met a fixed standard and rejecting defective ones. In this procedure (Fig. 8.14), a bird compared a drug capsule to a standard sample (a perfect one) and pecked Key 1 if it matched or pecked Key 2 if there was a defect (a skag).

The standard capsule was fixed in position behind an inspection window. A line of capsules passed by the same window one at a time; some were perfect and others were defective. In order to initiate an inspection, the pigeon pecked at the inspection window activating a beam of light that illuminated the sample and the comparison capsules. During training, all capsules on the inspection line were precoded by an electrical switch as either perfect or skags. If a capsule on the line was precoded as perfect, then the pigeon's response to Key 1 (matching response) resulted in food, turned off the beam of light behind the inspection window, and moved a new capsule into place. If a capsule was precoded as a skag, then a response to Key 2 (nonmatching response) turned off the illumination, moved a new capsule into the inspection window, and resulted in presentation of the food hopper. All other responses were false alarms or misses that were not reinforced and resulted in a 30-s blackout. With these contingencies in effect, the birds were about 99% accurate in identifying perfect capsules and skags.

One practical problem that Verhave faced concerned the persistence of a pigeon's performance on a real-life inspection line. In everyday life, there is no experimenter to designate perfect capsules, skags, misses, and false alarms. Without this monitoring, differential reinforcement for "hits versus misses" cannot be maintained, and a bird's performance will deteriorate over time to chance levels. A solution was to introduce capsules "known to be perfect or defective" occasionally onto the inspection line. Reinforcement or punishment were only in effect for "known" instances of matching (or nonmatching) to sample. With this procedure, sufficient differential reinforcement occurred to maintain stimulus control by the sample and comparison capsules.

In addition to Verhave (1966), there have been other attempts to use pigeons either for navigation of missiles (Skinner, 1960) or for running assembly lines (Cumming, 1966). More recently, Azar (2002) reports that the U.S. Navy in the 1970s and 1980s used pigeons to find people stranded at sea. Navy scientist Jim Simmons, Ph.D., trained pigeons by operant conditioning for search-and-rescue missions. The pigeons were trained to recognize objects floating in the water from an aircraft and were 93% accurate, compared with only 38% accuracy for human flight crews. When combined with human searchers, the pigeons' detection rate rose to almost perfect. Today with the threat of terrorism, there is talk of using pigeons to screen baggage at airport terminals, but history suggests that such a project will not work. In each pigeon project, the company's management (or military officers) were at first skeptical and amused by the claim that pigeons could perform such feats. Once it became clear that behavioral researchers could establish and maintain precise performance in pigeons, upper-level management no longer found this research either humorous or acceptable and immediately stopped all funding.

Analysis of the reinforcement contingencies related to upper management's rejection of pigeons in industry is informative. For example, although pigeons can be effective quality control inspectors, customers might complain about the lack of sanitary conditions. This could result in sales losses that would offset the benefits of having pigeons as low-cost employees. Other contingencies for managers may involve the complaints of union workers. Even though the quality control task is boring and monotonous, union workers could complain about the loss of jobs and use strikes to back their demands. Again, the benefits of pigeons as inspectors are offset by human labor disputes. Overall, although pigeons are excellent, low-cost employees, the social and economic contingencies of the human marketplace ensure that pigeons' pecking will not prevail.

Diabetes 2

Diabetes 2

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way your body uses food. Normally, your body converts sugars, starches and other foods into a form of sugar called glucose. Your body uses glucose for fuel. The cells receive the glucose through the bloodstream. They then use insulin a hormone made by the pancreas to absorb the glucose, convert it into energy, and either use it or store it for later use. Learn more...

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