Computers are already better than humans at games like Chess and Jeopardy, but soon they may best us at recognizing monkeys, too. For researchers studying great ape populations in the wild, learning to distinguish between faces is key to ensuring that no individual is counted twice -- and that often takes a keen eye and months of working closely with the animals. Now, thanks to a new facial-recognition software being developed, soon computers may be able to identify primate mugs much in the same way current technology can spot human faces, allowing primatologists to more accurately gauge the health of the world's most imperiled primates.According to a report from The Engineer, researchers from Germany are developing a method of distinguishing between individual chimpanzees from photos and videos of the animals taken in the wild as a way of allowing a more accurate census in a particular area. In turn, conservationists employing this technology could easily determine how effectively protection programs are safeguarding chimpanzee habitats.
'The biologists [looking after apes in the wild] have to evaluate whether a management strategy is efficient or not,' Alexander Loos from the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology told The Engineer.
'They have to know the number of individuals of a specific species, whether a population is declining or increasing and which factors influence the population.'
Remotely operated cameras and audio equipment are already used to help monitor animal populations in the wild, but they often produce more data than can be manually processed.
Facial-recognition technology has been around for a while in human contexts, though similar methods are finding an increasing number of applications in the world of conservation as well. Algorithmic programs are currently being used to identify individual members of a species from its physical traits, like the coat patterns of penguins and the dorsal fins of dolphins -- though this may be the first time an animal face is used as the distinguishing feature of an animal.
Researchers tell The Engineer that they're hoping to pair this technology with other smart programs, like those which can classify primate vocalizations, as well. Together, these tools could revolutionize the way researchers understand both wild chimpanzee populations and the emotional state of the group.
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