Skip to main content

Facial recognition tech for bears aims to keep humans safe

If bears could talk, they might voice privacy concerns. But their current inability to articulate thoughts means there isn’t much they can do about plans in Japan to use facial recognition to identify so-called “troublemakers” among its community.

With bears increasingly venturing into urban areas across Japan, and the number of bear attacks on the rise, the town of Shibetsu in the country’s northern prefecture of Hokkaido is hoping that artificial intelligence will help it to better manage the situation and keep people safe, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.

Bear faces may look very similar, but small differences in appearance, such as the distance between the eyes and nose, allow facial recognition technology to tell them apart.

For the system to work, the technology requires a minimum of 30 photos of each bear’s face, taken from the front. Workers at the South Shiretoko Brown Bear Information Center have placed automatic cameras along known bear trails to capture the required data, but so far they’ve failed to gather enough imagery to launch their facial recognition plan.

While bears are considered by many experts to be highly intelligent creatures, it’s not thought that Hokkaido’s bears have rumbled Shibetsu’s facial recognition initiative, prompting them to steer clear of the cameras. Rather, the chances of a bear looking straight down the lens of a camera along the trail simply appear slim. But the team is persevering and hopes that it will soon have the necessary imagery to launch its plan.

The hope is that workers at the center will be able to use the facial recognition system to learn more about the specific behavior traits of each bear and capture ones considered likely to cause problems in a nearby town or village.

This isn’t the first time such technology has been used on bears, as researchers in the U.S. and Canada deployed a similar system several years ago in a bid to gauge population numbers in national parks.

Earlier this month, Japan’s ongoing difficulties with bear attacks hit the headlines again when one of the creatures injured four people in Hokkaido’s capital city of Sapporo before it was shot dead. Dramatic news footage showed the bear striking a pedestrian, the victim oblivious as the animal bounded up behind it.

In 2019, Japan recorded around 150 bear attacks, marking the biggest increase in such incidents in a decade, while around 6,000 were captured after causing incidents of varying severity. Experts say the increase could be down to a shortage of food in the bears’ natural habitat, prompting them to venture further afield in search of sustenance.

Other efforts to keep bears out of Japanese towns have included this “Monster Wolf” robot that’s supposed to scare the animal away.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Zoom’s A.I. tech to detect emotion during calls upsets critics
coronavirus crisis not ready for an online first world analysis zoom conference lifestyle image

Zoom has begun to develop A.I. technology which can reportedly scan the faces and speech of users in order to determine their emotions, which was first reported by Protocol.

While this technology appears to still be in its early phases of development and implementation, several human rights groups project that it could be used for more discriminatory purposes down the line, and are urging Zoom to turn away from the practice.

Read more
Can A.I. beat human engineers at designing microchips? Google thinks so
google artificial intelligence designs microchips photo 1494083306499 e22e4a457632

Could artificial intelligence be better at designing chips than human experts? A group of researchers from Google's Brain Team attempted to answer this question and came back with interesting findings. It turns out that a well-trained A.I. is capable of designing computer microchips -- and with great results. So great, in fact, that Google's next generation of A.I. computer systems will include microchips created with the help of this experiment.

Azalia Mirhoseini, one of the computer scientists of Google Research's Brain Team, explained the approach in an issue of Nature together with several colleagues. Artificial intelligence usually has an easy time beating a human mind when it comes to games such as chess. Some might say that A.I. can't think like a human, but in the case of microchips, this proved to be the key to finding some out-of-the-box solutions.

Read more
This basic human skill is the next major milestone for A.I.
Profile of head on computer chip artificial intelligence.

Remember the amazing, revelatory feeling when you first discovered the existence of cause and effect? That’s a trick question. Kids start learning the principle of causality from as early as eight months old, helping them to make rudimentary inferences about the world around them. But most of us don’t remember much before the age of around three or four, so the important lesson of “why” is something we simply take for granted.

It’s not only a crucial lesson for humans to learn, but also one that today’s artificial intelligence systems are pretty darn bad at. While modern A.I. is capable of beating human players at Go and driving cars on busy streets, this is not necessarily comparable with the kind of intelligence humans might use to master these abilities. That’s because humans -- even small infants -- possess the ability to generalize by applying knowledge from one domain to another. For A.I. to live up to its potential, this is something it also needs to be able to do.

Read more