Facial recognition for primates in the wild

 (Reuters file)


Bengaluru: While facial recognition software may raise alarm bells among humans, scientists at the University of Oxford have developed artificial intelligence (AI) software to recognise and track the faces of individual chimpanzees in the wild. They hope this new software will allow researchers and wildlife conservationists to significantly cut back on time and resources spent analysing video footage.

The computer model, according to the new paper published in Science Advances on Thursday, was trained using over 10 million images from Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute (PRI) video archive of wild chimpanzees in Guinea, West Africa. The new software is the first to continuously track and recognise individuals in a wide range of poses, performing with high accuracy in difficult conditions such as low lighting, poor image quality and motion blur.

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For species like chimpanzees, which have complex social lives and live for many years, getting snapshots of their behaviour from short-term field research can only tell us so much, according to Dan Schofield, researcher and DPhil student at Oxford University’s Primate Models Lab, School of Anthropology. “By harnessing the power of machine learning to unlock large video archives, it makes it feasible to measure behaviour over the long term, for example observing how the social interactions of a group change over several generations,” he added.

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Access to this large video archive allowed the researchers to use cutting edge deep neural networks to train models at a scale that was previously not possible, according to Arsha Nagrani, co-author of the study and DPhil student at the Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford. “Additionally, our method differs from previous primate face recognition software in that it can be applied to raw video footage with limited manual intervention or pre-processing, saving hours of time and resources,” she said.

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The technology has potential for many uses, such as monitoring species for conservation. Although the current application focused on chimpanzees, the software provided could be applied to other species, and help drive the adoption of artificial intelligence systems to solve a range of problems in the wildlife sciences.

All this software is available open-source for the research community, the researchers said. On the lighter side, much of this will be possible since these primates cannot raise privacy questions.