Thursday, November 19, 2015

Actually for real--pigeons reading mammograms

Hey! Who you callin' a bird brain?
I checked--not April Fool's Day.

In a paper on PLOS One, researchers at the Univs of Iowa and California (Davis) used training and food reinforcement to teach pigeons to read mammograms. And--the birds performed as well as humans in categorizing digitized slides of both benign and cancerous breasts.

The pigeons learned to sort the images by color or absence of color as well as by degrees of image compression. They also correctly identified cancer-related micro-calcifications on the mammograms.

What they did not so as well was classify suspicious masses--a task that is difficult even for human radiologists.

Although a pigeon's brain is no bigger than the tip of your index finer, the neural pathways operate very similarly to those in the human brain. Or better--they apparently can discriminate between benign and cancerous in breast images all all magnifications--a task that humbles humans.

They also can distinguish identities and emotions on human faces, letters of the alphabet, misshapen capsules, and even paintings by Monet and Picasso.

Will pigeons eventually find a role in radiology depts? That may be a stretch...

But maybe they have retired the insult of being "flying rats."

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