Lock Picking Parrots (and Snowden’s training)

Move over Schuyler Towne: parrots have learned to pick locks!

Well, not pin tumbler locks. But the video in the article is remarkable to watch (AND DOESN’T REQUIRE FLASH!) — the birts pull out locking pins, unscrew bolts, lift out locking elements, rotate discs…

Snowden’s training: …turns out to have involved teaching DIA intelligence agents how to prevent information from being compromised in “highest threat counter-intelligence environments (i.e. China)” and thus he feels confident that what he knows cannot be coerced from him even under torture. [1]

Given the example is China, presumably “forced hypnosis” interrogation schemes as applied in the Korean War (using Soviet LIDA machines) and their more modern counterparts given 60 years development are also in the threat model. Since split-personality schemes were used as a means of hiding information even in the face of torture[2], hypnosis and associated altered states would actually seem to be a more serious threat than torture. (And if my guess is correct, this suggests Snowden is well experienced in that sort of consciousness-hacking.)

Even if he has no intention of leaking information that would cause harm, it would be extremely interesting to know what his methodology for securing that information is. Indeed, assuming he’s willing to continue his training courses, this background makes him very valuable to Wikileaks — an organization which would seem to be constantly operating in the West’s own “highest threat counter-intelligence environments.”

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/16/gordon-humphrey-email-edward-snowden [2] Ostrander & Schroeder, “Supermemory”


“A team of scientists from Oxford University, the University of Vienna, and the Max Planck Institute, report in PLOS ONE a study in which ten untrained Goffin’s cockatoos [Cacatua goffini] faced a puzzle box showing food (a nut) behind a transparent door secured by a series of five different interlocking devices, each one jamming the next along in the series.

To retrieve the nut the birds had to first remove a pin, then a screw, then a bolt, then turn a wheel 90 degrees, and then shift a latch sideways. One bird, called ‘Pipin’, cracked the problem unassisted in less than two hours, and several others did it after being helped either by being presented with the series of locks incrementally or being allowed to watch a skilled partner doing it.

Watch a video of cockatoos solving the puzzle box: http://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/group/kacelnik/lb_movie_s1.mov

The scientists were interested in the birds’ progress towards the solution, and on what they knew once they had solved the full task.

The team found that the birds worked determinedly to sort one obstacle after another even though they were only rewarded with the nut once they had solved all five devices. The scientists suggest that the birds seemed to progress as if they employed a ‘cognitive ratchet’ process: once they discovered how to solve one lock they rarely had any difficulties with the same device again. This, the scientists argue, is consistent with the birds having a representation of the goal they were after.”

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