There is no great startup stagnation crow average is over

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.


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

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.

patience young padawan

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.

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.

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

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?

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

Nine out of ten dentists say he is.

"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.

I see a movie.

Feature, not bug.

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.

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

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.

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

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

And the crows do not respect borders.

Thread winner!

Maybe they could train smokers to dispose of their butts.

"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.

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.

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.

"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!

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

The Soviet Canada, the crows train you.


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

... or funded by the cigarette companies to sell more cigarettes ;-)

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.

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.

But their grunge music will be so much more deep.

Also, wouldn't that be CIV?

+ IV

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.

This might be bad news for other birds...

Great idea, but it's the end of free "street tobacco " for the tramps.

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