In June, Josh Klein revealed his masterâ€™s-thesis project to a flock of crows at the Binghamton Zoo in south-central New York State. The New York University graduate student offered the birds coins and peanuts from a dish attached to a vending machine heâ€™d created, then took the peanuts away. Klein designed the machine so that when the crows searched for the missing peanuts, they pushed the coins out of a dish into a slot, causing more peanuts to be released into the dish. The Binghamton crows quickly learned that dropping nickels and dimes into the slot produced peanuts, and the most resourceful members of the flock began looking for more coins. Within a month, Klein had a flock of crows scouring the ground for loose change.
Cornell University and Binghamton University to study how wild crows make use of his machine. Although his invention might conjure Hitchcock-worthy visions of crows stealing the loose change from pedestriansâ€™ pockets and hands, Kleinâ€™s conception is more benign. To Klein, the machine demonstrates the value of cooperating with â€œsynanthropesâ€ â€” animals that have adapted seamlessly to human environments. â€œRather than just killing off a species, why not see if they can do something useful for us, so we can all live in close proximity?â€ he said. To pursue his research, he founded the Synanthropy Foundation this year. Someday, he hopes, similar techniques may allow us to train rats to sort our garbage for us.
Back in 2007 I picked Josh Klein’s “crow vending machine” as one of my favorite projects from the ITP show…