You might think pigs are pretty useless when it comes to gaming, but some of these farmyard animals have been trained to use a joystick and play something akin to a simple version of Pong.
It’s long been known that pigs are more intelligent than they’re given credit for. They’re so smart, researchers from Purdue University in Indiana have trained four of the porkers to manipulate a joystick with their snouts to control what’s happening on a display, receiving rewards for specific tasks.
A paper in the journal Frontiers in Psychology explains how the pigs had to move a cursor around the screen, with the goal being to collide with one of four walls. If successful, a noise would play, and the pig was given a reward. The more successful the pig was at the game, the fewer the number of walls would appear.
Because the pigs were farsighted, the screens had to be placed at a distance where the animals could see the targets, and using their snouts meant continually switching between looking at the screen and looking at the joystick. Despite these issues, the swine performed impressively well.
Two three-month-old Yorkshire pigs, Hamlett and Omelette, were more successful with two walls or a single wall in the game, less so when there were three walls. As this breed grows fast, they became too large to stand for entire sessions after 12 weeks of training.
Ebony and Ivory, two-year-old male Panepinto micro pigs, did better when faced with three walls instead of one.
“That the pigs achieved the level of success they did on a task that was significantly outside their normal frame of reference is in itself remarkable, and indicative of their behavioral and cognitive flexibility,” writes the researchers.
It seems encouragement from the pigs’ trainer was as important, if not more so, than the treats, which sounds very dog-like.
The team believes touchscreens might work better than joysticks for evaluating the pigs’ game-playing abilities, so maybe we’ll see a future iPad designed for the animals—an iPig, maybe?