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Fish out of water? Turn left at the light

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As the proverb goes, give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.

But, as we have now learned, teach a fish to drive a car and he can eventually deliver a pizza to that guy’s house.

And that is exactly what scientists have done — taught a fish to drive a car.

According to the journal Behavioural Brain Research, which I get for the articles and not just for the photos of scantily clad neurosurgeons, a team of scientists attempted to determine whether an animal’s navigational abilities are universal or restricted to their home environment by building a small robot car and coaxing a goldfish to drive it on land.

I imagine the initial project meeting went something like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have assembled you, some of the greatest scientific minds of our generation, and now we must determine what important issues we address for the betterment of our civilization as a whole. Shall we put our collective brainpower toward conquering this insidious virus that has ravaged the world, finding a solution to the climate change that threatens to leave the planet scorched and barren or positively shape the continuing development of artificial intelligence to avoid catastrophe?”

“Let’s teach goldfish to drive a tiny robot car.”

“Gerald, that’s the best idea you’ve had since suggesting we add photos of scantily clad neurosurgeons to the journal of Behavioural Brain Research.”

So, how did the scientific team approach this task and what was the result?

The following comes directly from the journal’s abstract:

“… we trained goldfish to use a Fish Operated Vehicle (FOV), a wheeled terrestrial platform that reacts to the fish’s movement characteristics, location and orientation in its water tank to change the vehicle’s; i.e., the water tank’s, position in the arena. The fish were tasked to ‘drive’ the FOV towards a visual target in the terrestrial environment, which was observable through the walls of the tank, and indeed were able to operate the vehicle, explore the new environment, and reach the target regardless of the starting point, all while avoiding dead-ends and correcting location inaccuracies. These results demonstrate how a fish was able to transfer its space representation and navigation skills to a wholly different terrestrial environment, thus supporting the hypothesis that the former possess a universal quality that is species-independent.”

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While this is a thorough explanation, it leaves some questions unanswered. As the senior interim ichthyologic-automotive correspondent for this award-winning publication, I will attempt to answer those in the following Q&A.

Q. Will fish be required to get a license to drive?

A. Given that anglers must get a license to fish, fish will be required to get a license to operate a motor vehicle on any state-maintained or interstate highway.

Q. What kind of cars do fish prefer?

A. According to a soon-to-be- published survey by Motor Trend magazine in cooperation with Field & Stream, fish tend to favor vintage makes, such as the Plymouth Barracuda, the Corvette Stingray and the AMC Marlin.

Q. Since we have taught fish to drive a car, can we now put our collective brainpower toward conquering this insidious virus that has ravaged the world, finding a solution to the climate change that threatens to leave the planet scorched and barren or positively shaping the continuing development of artificial intelligence to avoid catastrophe?”

A. Maybe after lunch. Nemo is driving all of us all over to Red Lobster.


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