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Face recognition isn't just for humans — it's learning to identify bears and cows, too

November 22, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

It's hard for the average person to tell Dani, Lenore, and Bella apart: They all sport fashionably fuzzy brown coats and enjoy a lot of the same activities, like playing in icy-cold water and, occasionally, ripping apart a freshly caught fish.

Several years ago Clapham began wondering whether a technology typically used to identify humans might be able to help: facial recognition software, which compares measurements between different facial features in one image to those in another.

Clapham teamed up with two Silicon Valley-based tech workers and together they created BearID, which uses facial-recognition software to monitor grizzly bears.

While facial-recognition technology known as a tool for identifying humans — and a controversial one at that, due to well-known issues regarding privacy, accuracy, and bias — BearID is one of several efforts to adapt it for animals in the wild and on farms.

So far, BearID has collected 4,674 images of grizzly bears; 80% of the images were used for training the facial-recognition system, Clapham said, and the remaining 20% for testing it.

There's also the difficulty of collecting a large number of images of individual animals — from multiple viewpoints, in different lighting conditions, without obstructions like plants, taken repeatedly over time — to train AI networks.

Anil Jain, a computer science professor at Michigan State University, knows this better than most: He and his colleagues studied how facial-recognition software could be used to identify lemurs, golden monkeys, and chimpanzees — the hope was to help track endangered animals and halt animal trafficking.

"Really any species we can get good training data for we should potentially be able to develop this type of facial recognition for as well," Clapham said.

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