If bears had the ability to communicate, they may express privacy concerns. However, given their inability to express themselves, there isn’t much they can do about aspirations in Japan to use facial recognition to identify “troublemakers” in the community.
The town of Shibetsu in Japan’s northern prefecture of Hokkaido is hoping that artificial intelligence will help it better manage the situation and keep people safe. Bears are increasingly venturing into urban areas across the country, and the number of bear attacks is on the rise.
Although bear faces appear to be quite similar, subtle changes in appearance, such as the distance between the eyes and nose, enable facial recognition systems to distinguish them.
A minimum of 30 images of each bear’s face, taken from the front, are required for the system to work. Workers at the South Shiretoko Brown Bear Information Center have set up automatic cameras along recognized bear tracks in the hopes of gathering the necessary data, but they have yet to collect enough imagery to begin their facial recognition strategy.
Taking images from the front has proven to be a challenge, and the organization has only been able to capture roughly 20 photos that can be used to identify the bears’ faces. Despite this, they were able to distinguish four different bears.
Although bears are known to be very intelligent creatures by many experts, it is unlikely that Hokkaido’s bears have rumbled Shibetsu’s facial recognition project, forcing them to avoid the cameras.
Instead, the chances of a bear staring straight down the lens of a trail camera appear to be small. However, the team is optimistic that it will soon acquire the necessary imagery to start its strategy.
Workers at the facility hope to use the facial recognition system to learn more about each bear’s individual behavioural features and trap any that are thought to be a threat to a nearby town or village.
Although the project has been stalled for several years, Yasushi Fujimoto, the organization’s director, noted, “If used in tandem with AI facial recognition, exterminating only individual bears that caused trouble would not be impossible.” He continued, “We hope these kinds of efforts will spread across Hokkaido, because male bears have a wide range of movement, but we need to accumulate photo data and compile a database first.”
This isn’t the first time such technology has been used on bears; researchers in the US and Canada used a similar approach to estimate bear population counts in national parks a few years ago.
The continuing problems in Japan with bear attacks made headlines again earlier this month when one of the monsters harmed four people in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, before being shot dead. The bear struck a pedestrian, the victim clueless as the animal raced up behind it, according to dramatic news footage.
Around 150 bear attacks were reported in Japan in 2019, the highest number in a decade, and around 6,000 bears were caught after creating incidents of varied severity. Experts believe the surge is due to a lack of food in the bears’ normal habitat, forcing them to travel further away in quest of food.
Another attempt to keep bears out of Japanese communities has been this “Monster Wolf” robot, which is meant to scare the animal away.