There is no great startup stagnation crow average is over

by on October 31, 2017 at 2:17 am in Web/Tech | Permalink

The winners of the Dutch Accenture Innovation Awards, the Crowbar (Crowded Cities) startup offers a smart machine that trains crows to pick up cigarette butts from the street, The Next Web reports.

The incentives work like this:

The machine is designed to autonomously train crows to pick up change and bring it back in exchange for peanuts.

The first step presents the crow with food and a butt on a tray in the machine. The food is always there, next to the butt, so the crow learns to come back for more.

The second step takes away the food, and only drops it just after the crow arrives. “So the crow gets used to the machine doing things,” Bob says.

“The third step is crucial,” the authors say. In this step, the food is completely removed, leaving only the butt on the tray. The crow, used to getting food only for being there, will start to nose around, eventually knocking the butt off the tray into the butt receptacle. The food drops when that happens.

Here is the full story, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

1 Lurker October 31, 2017 at 3:50 am

It`s a game-changer. GDP +1% on this news….

2 pnow October 31, 2017 at 5:47 am

I know this chap is a professor, so is there some logic behind the structure of his headlines? “There is no great startup stagnation crow average is over”. Is that meant to mean anything? I am certain that could use some punctuation. But the phrase “crow average is over” is also drivel.

3 Butler T. Reynolds October 31, 2017 at 8:01 am

patience young padawan

4 Borjigid October 31, 2017 at 10:09 am

Two of Tyler’s last books are “The Great Stagnation” and “Average is Over”. TGS drew a contrast between the game-changing inventions of a century ago like indoor plumbing and the piddling inventions of today. In AiO, he argued that an increasing number of workers would be either very productive or minimally productive, without much of middle.

A crow training machine is both unimpressive and will lead to some crows being productive while the vast majority of crows remain unproductive, so its a chance for a tongue-in-cheek callout to both books.

As a general matter, the more of Tyler you read, the more he makes sense.

5 John October 31, 2017 at 11:07 am

The headline is an amalgamation of various oft-used MR catch phrases. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek and playful, like the subject matter. So relax.

6 Zooq October 31, 2017 at 6:34 am

The crows will probably figure out other inputs besides cigarette butts and get paid.

7 Todd K October 31, 2017 at 7:15 am

How could anyone have possibly included crows in the Great Stagnation in the first place? We are supposed to just *assume* that crows were going to just stand around and be dragged down by the financial crisis? Do people seriously think that Cowen is a true crow expert?

8 Mark Bahner November 1, 2017 at 11:02 pm

“Do people seriously think that Cowen is a true crow expert?”

Nine out of ten dentists say he is.

9 Jim B October 31, 2017 at 8:37 am

“offers a smart machine that trains crows to pick up cigarette butts from the street”

Doesn’t seem like the scheme quoted teaches them anything about picking butts up from the street. Counting down the time until a smoker gets attacked by crows for the cigarette they are currently smoking.

10 Pshrnk October 31, 2017 at 9:28 am

I see a movie.

11 Hazel Meade October 31, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Feature, not bug.

12 Yancey Ward October 31, 2017 at 12:21 pm

The crows, having made the connection between the butts and the food (see that last key part described) would likely start bringing their own butts to the machine when the butts aren’t there to push in. It may be included in the full paper, but I haven’t bothered to read it.

Like you, though, I started thinking about the possible ways this could go wrong, and the birds trying to take the cigarettes before smokers are done with them is one I also thought off. In addition, I wonder if the crows won’t try to drop small rocks or other items into the machines, too.

13 msgkings October 31, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Crows are smart as hell, they will figure out a way to game it.

14 Jim B November 2, 2017 at 9:55 am

I wasn’t too worried about the small rocks, I figured the machine could be made smart enough to use a camera and some sort of “butt recognition technology” (I would not recommend Googling that) before dispensing the reward. Seems like based on the crow intelligence, they’d figure out quickly that they didn’t get rewarded for the wrong type of debris. I was more worried with where they would learn to source the right type of debris, the proposed solution did not seem to think about that aspect.

15 JWatts October 31, 2017 at 1:53 pm

This is clearly all a plot by Big Tobacco to capture the nascent smoking crow market. Who funded this ‘research’. Follow the money!

16 Scoop October 31, 2017 at 9:12 am

How is this new? Good unionized jobs (street sweeping) will be lost to newcomers who work for peanuts.

17 Pshrnk October 31, 2017 at 9:29 am

And the crows do not respect borders.

18 Yancey Ward October 31, 2017 at 12:22 pm

Thread winner!

19 KL October 31, 2017 at 9:14 am

Maybe they could train smokers to dispose of their butts.

20 Mark Bahner November 1, 2017 at 11:16 pm

“Maybe they could train smokers to dispose of their butts.”

It’s easier to train crows, because they’re smarter.

The proof crows are smarter? They don’t smoke.

21 Your Husband's Cane October 31, 2017 at 9:18 am

Per the article, the designers intiially considered pigeons, but decided against after “a quick search revealed that there was not much known about the intelligence of pigeons, and that training them would be hard”. This seems strange, considering B. F. Skinner’s extensive work with pigeons, including training them to guide antiship missiles, and Thom Verhave’s training them to pick defective capsules off a pharmaceutical assembly line.

22 djw October 31, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Can you train a pigeon to not crap on the machine? For that matter, can you train a crow not to crap? Cause that is going to be one disgusting machine after the birds are done with it.

23 Mark Bahner November 2, 2017 at 12:13 am

“Per the article, the designers initially considered pigeons, but decided against after “a quick search revealed that there was not much known about the intelligence of pigeons,…”

Use dolphins!

24 rayward October 31, 2017 at 9:31 am

Speaking of financial innovation, I think Cowen is spot on in this dialogue with Matt Levine: How about this quote from Cowen: “Perhaps I expect bigger changes [in finance] than you do, so let me follow up on a few possible future scenarios. Here’s one to start with: Big data and algorithms will become so good that only the good credit risks will be able to borrow. Of course this will help many creditworthy people, but the social-insurance function of credit might disappear with large numbers of risky borrowers locked out of the loan market and perhaps some insurance markets too. In economic lingo, separating equilibria may replace pooling equilibria and it may become harder to protect against risk.” Fascinating. Finance will become more like health insurance, with data and algorithms designed to separate the healthy and unhealthy (in a financial sense). Will there be an Obamacare for finance, to force more pooling of risk? Of course, increasing inequality is in large part the result of the separation of opportunity, as opposed to the pooling of opportunity.

25 Al October 31, 2017 at 10:20 am

I can’t believe I am saying this: thanks for the link rayward.

Levine sounds brilliant in that interview and Cowan sounds … less brilliant. Cowan repeatedly pleads for regulation, while Matt basically shrugs and says we’re basically trending in a good way without an overlord.

Tyler, are you bucking for some position in the next democratic/fascist administration? That’s the only possible reading.

26 Brian Donohue October 31, 2017 at 11:07 am

Honest question: what is “the social-insurance function of credit”?

27 Yancey Ward October 31, 2017 at 12:24 pm

It is the politically correct way of saying that deadbeats need to eat, too.

28 JWatts October 31, 2017 at 1:56 pm

So to paraphrase Tyler: Accurate determination of credit risks could lead to …. accurate determination of credit risks.

29 Tim October 31, 2017 at 9:49 am

How long until the crows take up smoking and exchange their own cigarette butts for food

30 derek October 31, 2017 at 10:09 am

The smart one around here place walnuts where vehicle tires break them. I may have trained one or two. They drop nuts onto the road going to break them so I make a point of running over the nut.

31 Yancey Ward October 31, 2017 at 12:25 pm

The Soviet Canada, the crows train you.

32 msgkings October 31, 2017 at 12:46 pm


33 Peter D. October 31, 2017 at 10:26 am

The crows, being very intelligent, will short circuit the intended process and start stealing cigarettes from people mouths. Eventually whole unopened packages will be stolen. This was clearly devised by the anti-smoking lobby. 🙂

Peter D

34 apoptosis October 31, 2017 at 1:38 pm

… or funded by the cigarette companies to sell more cigarettes 😉

35 polly October 31, 2017 at 12:32 pm

Jesus humans are awful. We notice that crows are clever ( not to mention they have a sense of joie de vivre, look up the Youtube videos of them using jamjar lids to snowboard down roofs in Siberia) and we train them to do something that will give them cancer? What the hell is wrong with us as a species.

36 Todd K October 31, 2017 at 1:17 pm

They can’t get cancer. The real danger is that it is a gateway drug to shooting up heroine where some of the crows will undoubtedly start to shoot up heroine where a subset will pass on dirty needles thereby passing on HIV to other crows.

37 msgkings October 31, 2017 at 1:23 pm

But their grunge music will be so much more deep.

38 msgkings October 31, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Also, wouldn’t that be CIV?

39 JWatts October 31, 2017 at 1:58 pm

+ IV

40 Robert Rounthwaite October 31, 2017 at 1:01 pm

I’m pretty sure that the story linked in the post was plagiarized from this, longer story. Among other hints, it doesn’t have the continuity error regarding change.

41 Mike November 1, 2017 at 1:20 am
42 jb November 2, 2017 at 5:06 am

Great idea, but it’s the end of free “street tobacco ” for the tramps.

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