Facial recognition tech for bears: If bears could talk, they might voice their privacy concerns. But their current inability to articulate their thoughts means there is little they can do about Japan’s plans to use facial recognition to identify so-called “troublemakers” in the population.
As bears increasingly enter urban areas across Japan and bear attacks are on the rise, the city of Shibetsu in northern Hokkaido Prefecture hopes artificial intelligence will help it better manage the situation and keep people safe, the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper 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 distinguish between them.
The system requires at least 30 photos of each bear’s muzzle, taken from the front. Staff at the South Shiretoko Brown Bear Information Center have placed automated cameras along known bear trails to collect the necessary data, but so far they have not been able to collect enough pictures to run their facial recognition plan.
Although many experts consider bears to be highly intelligent creatures, it does not appear that bears in Hokkaido have ignored Shibetsu’s face-recognition initiative, causing them to avoid cameras. Rather, the likelihood of a bear looking directly into the camera lens on the trail is simply slim. But the team perseveres and hopes to soon have the images they need to carry out their plan.
The hope is that the center workers can use the facial recognition system to learn more about the specific behavior patterns of each bear and capture those that are thought to cause problems in a nearby town or village.
This isn’t the first time such technology has been used on bears: a few years ago, researchers in the U.S. and Canada installed a similar system to determine population sizes in national parks.
Earlier this month, Japan’s ongoing problems with bear attacks made headlines again when one of the creatures injured four people in the Hokkaido capital of Sapporo before being shot dead. Dramatic news footage shows the bear striking a pedestrian, with the victim not paying attention to the animal sneaking up behind her.
About 150 bear attacks were reported in Japan in 2019, the largest increase in such incidents in a decade, and about 6,000 bears were caught after incidents of varying severity. Experts say the increase in attacks may be due to a lack of food in the bears’ natural habitat, prompting them to travel farther in search of sustenance.
Other measures to prevent bears from appearing in Japanese cities include the creation of a “Monster Wolf” robot to scare the animals away.