Kamikaze Pigeons!

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We have all heard of monkeys going into space, but who has heard of pigeons controlling missiles! Ever since our lecture on B.F. Skinner and conditioning i have not stopped thinking about his somewhat failed contribution to national defense, with pigeon guided missiles. If you missed this lecture let me give you brief description of "Project Orcon". During WW II Skinner used operant conditioning to train pigeons to help control missiles as to more accurately hit their target. The pigeon was positioned with a lens in front at which it could peck, if the pigeon were to peck the center the missile would continue strait, but when pecking away from the center it would cause the missile to change course as directed. A bomb in the hands, or more literally, the beak of pigeon! Before we discuss a bit a more, the following video gives us a great look and explanation of Skinners project:
As was said in the video, Skinner received funding from the government, $25,000 actually, but the idea was never really taken seriously. Also as they described in the video, the results that Skinner was able to produce and repeat, clearly showed that a pigeon could accurately guide a missile to its intended target. But why then was the project shut down on October 8th, 1944? Well according to the military they believed that "further prosecution of this project would seriously delay others which in the minds of the Division have more immediate promise of combat application." But Skinner had proven that this was a viable method of warfare, his methods of conditioning were clearly shown in multiple other projects as well, but he could not convince the National Defense Committee to implement Project Orcon. I have to admit that the idea of a pigeon controlling a bomb, being the deciding factor of who might live and die is a scary one. Trusting that much power to a pigeon seems a bit unreal and that is in the end what shut the project down. But this was just one more example of the power of conditioning that Skinner provided us, this fundamental psychological concept has a lot of power in it, enough power to a make a pigeon control a missile! What are your thoughts, would you trust a pigeon to control a missile? If you would trust them, think of the ethical implications of simply raising and training to pigeons to be nothing more than a kamikaze pilot. Also how would you feel knowing that your comrade was killed by a pigeon? Maybe the government was right to shut down the project, just for the wrong reasons. Commence commenting!

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Nice article. The video was interesting and informative as well. I am not really sure what to think of pigeon bombs. My gut instinct tells me to never trust an animal with that much power. I feel like a pigeon would panic when actually placed inside of a missile. Either way, I am sure the government was right in shutting down Project Orcon; they had some many other things to worry about, and to fund, that spending money on such a risky operation just does not seem practical.

I'm glad that I was not the only one to think about this. This really bizarre, I mean the idea of a pigeon having control over a missile... I just can't. For once I can say I'm glad technology has advanced. Even though this has little to do with it, I find it ridiculous that Skinner was paid $25,000! Thanks for this post. I'm glad that no one I know will be in harm's way due to the pecks of a pigeon.

Great Video! I see positives and negatives when it comes to the pigeon bombs. Its seems more like a crazy science project and its hard for me to believe it was ever considered. I thought it was great that he showed that it would work, there was just to much risk. Another great example of the powers of shaping and positive reinforcement.

Both your video and blog were great! This was an extremely interesting topic that I was also surprised to hear about. I don't think I would ever completely trust any animal with any kind of weapon, but it's scary to think how close that was to actually happening. You did a good job analyzing your topic too!

I vaguely remember hearing about this a while back, but it was great to finally get more details about it! When reading this I immediately get a picture of a pigeon getting distracted by bread crumbs and leading the bomb in the wrong direction, and injuring unintended targets. While I think the power of operant conditioning is legitimate, in this case I think the government was right to draw the line- for the sake of humans and pigeons alike.

I thought that lecture was really interesting as well. Great article. I can't believe that they actually trained pigeons to shoot missiles but BF Skinner.

This article was very interesting and it's weird to think about the possibilities of animals playing a part in our national defense. The video was cool as well and overall I enjoyed this blog post.

Great article! This just goes to show how effective operant conditioning is in training certain behaviors in animals. It's so interesting to think that a little shaping and positive reinforcement can lead to such complicated behaviors. That being said, I'm glad that the government never actually used pigeons to guide missiles and that lives were saved in the process. Overall, very interesting blog post and video.

In my opinion, I would not trust a pigeon with a bomb. There are just too many things that could go wrong.It also seems unethical to raise animals and then kill them this way. Although this idea could have been very helpful to the war effort, I think that they could spend money in better and more reliable ways instead of putting the fate of the USA in the beak of a pigeon

When I very heard about this, I thought it was a cool idea, but thought that I wouldn't trust a pigeon with a missile. The video that you included was very interesting and really explained how it worked and it was cool seeing the pigeons at work. Good post!

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This page contains a single entry by kling172 published on March 25, 2012 10:51 PM.

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