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This Shit Is Bananas

By Matt Wood in Miscellaneous on Dec 2, 2005 6:07PM

2005_12_computer_monkey.gifA 47-year old male sits in a windowless basement, tapping away at a computer screen. Each time he makes a correct response he gets a reward, namely getting to tap away at the computer some more. He gets stressed when he's away from his work for too long, and someday he hopes to move up to using the computers to crunch some serious numbers.

This sounds amazingly like Chicagoist's first job as a computer consultant, but it's actually the daily routine of Keo, a chimpanzee at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Researchers at the zoo have been using computer programs to learn how to communicate with the chimps and understand how they perceive the world.

Keo, another chimp named Vicky, and a gorilla named Rollie have really taken to using the computer, a touch-screen monitor that lets them interact with images. The first tasks have been face recognition. The chimps are shown pictures of other apes and get treats for successfully identifying matches, kind of like playing Memory. Eventually, the researchers hope the apes can identify their favorite foods, activities, or living areas, and even learn to count and write lyrics for Gwen Stefani songs.

The research is being conducted at the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, part of the zoo's new Regenstein Center for African Apes. While you can't watch Keo and his friends working on TPS reports, the zoo is still open from 9 AM to 5 PM throughout the winter.