A Driving Goldfish Shows “Smart” Adaptive Intelligence

(p. A1) Ronen Segev is out to clear the goldfish’s bad reputation.

“Many times people come to me and ask me, ‘We thought that [a] goldfish has a three-second memory span.’ This is incorrect. It’s very important to make this point,” he said. “Fish are smart, even goldfish.”

His case rests on a viral video he tweeted last month of a goldfish driving a water-tank-equipped robotic vehicle down the side of a street and inside his lab at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. The roboride was part of a scientific study to test whether goldfish had the mental acuity to navigate a terrestrial environment toward a target using a machine. The six goldfish that took part in driver’s training passed their test.

. . .

(p. A9) “The ability to change in response to a changing environment, it’s so important to survival,” said Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond in Virginia, who has trained rats, but not fish, to drive. “The flexibility is what is so amazing about a brain. If you had a brain that was fixed, if anything changed in the environment—we’re done.”

Dr. Segev, a neuroscientist who has been studying fish cognition for 16 years, didn’t hold back on the menu of challenges he devised for his goldfish. His aim was to show that animal brains aren’t inferior to human ones; they’re just different because they evolved in a different environment, he said. Animal brains are flexible enough to adapt to new situations, a fundamental characteristic of all brains, neuroscientists say.

He put a goldfish in a tank aboard a robot outfitted with computer-vision software that tracked the fish’s movement. When the fish moved inside its plexiglass pool, the robot moved with it. The fish had to learn that when it swam right, the robotic vehicle moved in that direction too.

The fish had to use their new cognitive skills to find a target, a pink board inside a lab. In return for hitting their mark, the fish got rewarded with a pellet of food.

For the full story, see:

Daniela Hernandez. “In This Fish Story, a Goldfish Drives a Vehicle Down the Street.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, February 7, 2022): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 6, 2022, and has the title “How Do You Teach a Goldfish to Drive? First You Need a Vehicle.”)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.