Skinner's bombers.

Skinner was a great man, but there is no doubt that his mind began to
deteriorate due to his old age.


R.M. Holston <>
Director of Research and Design, Cybernetic Systems Inc.
Director, Association for Cybernetics Research, Oakland University
Web Server URL:

From Phil Runkel on 8 Aug 96.

Maybe about 1952, when I was a graduate student, someone told me
this tale--well, this is how I remember it now.

B. F. Skinner invented a self-guided bomb that would, when
dropped from an airplane near a ship below, move its tail vanes
appropriately to keep it headed toward the ship as it fell. He
achieved that by training a pigeon to keep an image of a ship at
the center of a ground-glass screen. If the ship drifted toward
the edge of the screen, the pigeon would peck at it, and a motor
would be activated to operate the appropriate tail vane. To
increase reliability, Skinner bundled three of these devices in
parallel, with the wiring arranged to take the majority vote
about where the image was on the screen.

The story goes that he demonstrated a model of his three-pigeon
guidance system to a committee of generals and admirals. The
pigeons performed flawlessly, but the generals and admirals voted
against investing any money to develop the idea.

Looks to me as if Skinner had the full loop before his eyes but
missed the point he could have taken from his own demonstration.

Has anyone else heard that story?