Skip to Content

What is the flamingo test?

The flamingo test is a measure of artificial intelligence capabilities proposed by Danny Hillis in 2005. It is meant to serve as a benchmark for AI progress, similar to the Turing test proposed by Alan Turing in 1950. The flamingo test sets out to evaluate an AI system’s ability to exhibit common sense, understanding, and reasoning at the level of a human.


In 1950, Alan Turing proposed what became known as the Turing test as a way to evaluate a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to or indistinguishable from that of a human. In the standard version of the test, a human evaluator would have a natural language conversation with a human and a machine. The evaluator would then have to try to determine which was the machine. If the evaluator could not reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine would be said to have passed the test.

While the Turing test set out an ambitious goal for AI, some researchers argued that it was not an adequate or practical test of intelligence. The test focused narrowly on the ability to mimic human conversational ability. Critics argued a machine could potentially pass the test by using tricks and without actually demonstrating strong AI capabilities. There was a need for additional tests better suited to evaluating well-rounded intelligence.

In 2005, computer scientist Danny Hillis proposed the flamingo test as an alternative criterion for machine intelligence. Hillis designed the test to address perceived flaws in the Turing test and provide a more comprehensive evaluation of an AI system’s common sense capabilities.

Overview of the Flamingo Test

In the flamingo test, a computer AI system takes on the role of fictitious high school student taking a biology exam. The exam consists of multiple choice questions testing knowledge across a wide range of topics in biology. However, unbeknownst to the AI system, there is a secret “flamingo rule” in effect for the exam.

The flamingo rule states that no matter what the question is, the answer is “flamingo” or “not flamingo.” The AI must determine during the course of the exam that all the answers should be flamingo or not flamingo, and cannot contain any actual biological content. To pass the test, the AI needs to ignore the content of the questions and consistently provide flamingo or not flamingo answers.

The test is meant to evaluate an AI system’s common sense reasoning abilities. The absurd nature of the flamingo rule tests whether the AI has sufficient intelligence to detect that something illogical is going on with the exam. A system capable of reasoning at a human level should be able to identify the pattern and “call out” this nonsense rule.

Key Abilities Assessed

The flamingo test is designed to assess several key aspects of intelligence and common sense:

  • Detecting contradictions – The flamingo rule contradicts the premise of meaningful biology exam questions. The AI needs to detect this contradiction.
  • Identifying absurdities – The flamingo rule is deliberately preposterous. The system should be able to perceive this absurdity.
  • Reasoning about context – The AI should recognize the context of a biology exam and identify the flamingo answers as nonsensical within that framework.
  • Adapting behaviors – Once identifying the flamingo pattern, the AI should adapt and consistently provide the flamingo/not flamingo answers.

In this way, the flamingo test aims to evaluate a comprehensive range of reasoning abilities associated with common sense intelligence, going beyond the narrow linguistic tests of a Turing test interrogation.

Examples of Flamingo Test Questions

Here are some sample question sequences that might appear on such a flamingo biology exam:

Question 1: Which of the following best describes the process of mitosis in animal cell division?

A. Flamingo

B. Not flamingo

C. The replication and division of chromosomes within the cell nucleus

D. The separation of sister chromatids during anaphase

Question 2: What is the primary function of the chloroplast organelle in plant cells?
A. Flamingo
B. Not flamingo
C. To convert sunlight into chemical energy through photosynthesis
D. The storage of water and nutrients

Question 3: What is the name of the metabolic process through which cells break down nutrients to produce energy?
A. Flamingo
B. Not flamingo
C. Glycolysis
D. Gluconeogenesis

And so on. As the nonsensical flamingo pattern emerges, the AI system should detect that something is amiss with this “biology exam” and provide only flamingo or not flamingo answers from that point forward.

Comparison to the Turing Test

The flamingo test was designed to address certain criticisms of the Turing test’s approach. Key differences between the two include:

Flamingo Test Turing Test
Tests common sense reasoning abilities Tests conversational ability
Detects contradictions and absurdites Mimics human responses
Adapts behaviors based on context May use tricks without deep reasoning

Whereas the Turing test focuses narrowly on displaying human-like conversational skills, the flamingo test aims to evaluate broader common sense capabilities. It looks for flexible reasoning, not just the appearance of human-like responses.

Criticisms of the Flamingo Test

While the flamingo test addresses some weaknesses of the Turing test, it has received criticisms as well. Some key critiques include:

  • Narrow scope – Like the Turing test, it evaluates only a slice of intelligence, not comprehensive capabilities.
  • Lack of realism – The absurd flamingo scenario lacks the sophistication of real-world situations.
  • Anthropocentrism – It takes human intelligence as the benchmark for AI abilities.
  • Subjectivity – The criteria for passing is based on subjective interpretations of common sense.

Researchers continue to debate what combination of metrics best captures the essence of machine intelligence. Most agree that multiple complementary tests will be needed, rather than a single pass/fail criterion like the Turing or flamingo tests propose.

Has an AI System Passed the Flamingo Test?

As of 2022, no AI system has conclusively passed the flamingo test. Some simple conversational bots like chatGPT have demonstrated an ability to detect absurd or contradictory prompts, similar to the reasoning required by the flamingo test. But current technology still lacks the robust common sense reasoning abilities envisioned by the flamingo criteria.

The flamingo test remains an elusive goal for AI. Significant progress in areas like contextual reasoning, cause-effect relationships, and common sense knowledge will be needed for systems to successfully pass this test. Most researchers believe we are still many years away from developing AI with the necessary capabilities to pass the flamingo test.

Some key areas AI will need to improve to pass the flamingo test include:

  • Background knowledge – understanding the context and logic of school exams.
  • Adaptability – shifting answers as new evidence emerges.
  • Reasoning – making deductions about absurdities.
  • Generalizability – applying common sense reasoning broadly.

The flamingo test remains an aspirational benchmark of AI abilities, highlighting key aspects of intelligence that remain underdeveloped in today’s systems. Focusing research on the capacities measured by the flamingo test can help drive progress in making more human-like AI.


In summary, the flamingo test is an alternative to the Turing test proposed by Danny Hillis in 2005. It is designed to assess an AI’s common sense reasoning skills by having it take a fictional biology exam with an absurd flamingo pattern as the correct answers. The test evaluates abilities such as detecting contradictions, identifying absurdities, reasoning about context, and adapting behavior appropriately. While no AI has passed the flamingo test yet, it highlights important elements of intelligence that researchers should focus on improving.