A team of reptile and amphibian enthusiasts is asking for the public’s help training artificial intelligence to spot snakes, frogs, and more from photos. The team wants to eventually create an app that can help people identify these creatures in their backyards — and prevent people from killing them. But first, their AI has to get better at making those photo IDs.
The AI, named Fitch after the late, renowned herpetologist Henry S. Fitch, is part of a new platform called What the Herp? Right now, it’s a webpage and a Twitter bot (@WhatTheHerp) where people can submit photos for Fitch to try and identify.
“The biggest issue with conservation of herps is that we work with one of the most detested groups on the planet — you’re up there with spiders,” says programmer Don Becker (no relation), a herpetology enthusiast and member of the small team behind What the Herp and a related app, HerpMapper. “By giving people a way to identify what it is that they’re looking at, that can help dissuade people from killing it.”
Before Fitch can help people ID their backyard reptiles and amphibians, Fitch has to learn how to do so itself. So the team is training it with thousands of accurately pre-identified photos. (Doing a reverse image search on Google, Becker says, doesn’t guarantee an accurate ID.) It’s “similar to showing a child flashcards, like this is an apple, this is an orange, this is a peach,” Becker says. “Just keep showing them the pictures and eventually they recognize what everything is.”
The problem is that Fitch can be easily distracted by background details in the…