Automatically identifying, counting, and describing wild animals in camera-trap images with deep learning


    Having accurate, detailed, and up-to-date information about the location and behavior of animals in the wild would revolutionize our ability to study and conserve ecosystems. We investigate the ability to automatically, accurately, and inexpensively collect such data, which could transform many fields of biology, ecology, and zoology into “big data” sciences. Motion sensor “camera traps” enable collecting wildlife pictures inexpensively, unobtrusively, and frequently. However, extracting information from these pictures remains an expensive, time-consuming, manual task. We demonstrate that such information can be automatically extracted by deep learning, a cutting-edge type of artificial intelligence. We train deep convolutional neural networks to identify, count, and describe the behaviors of 48 species in the 3.2-million-image Snapshot Serengeti dataset. Our deep neural networks automatically identify animals with over 93.8% accuracy, and we expect that number to improve rapidly in years to come. More importantly, if our system classifies only images it is confident about, our system can automate animal identification for 99.3% of the data while still performing at the same 96.6% accuracy as that of crowdsourced teams of human volunteers, saving more than 8.4 years (at 40 hours per week) of human labeling effort (i.e. over 17,000 hours) on this 3.2-million-image dataset. Those efficiency gains immediately highlight the importance of using deep neural networks to automate data extraction from camera-trap images. Our results suggest that this technology could enable the inexpensive, unobtrusive, high-volume, and even real-time collection of a wealth of information about vast numbers of animals in the wild.


    Mohammad Sadegh Norouzzadeh, Anh Nguyen, Margaret Kosmala, Alexandra Swanson, Meredith Palmer, Craig Parker, Jeff Clune


    PNAS Vol. 115 no. 25

    Full Paper

    ‘Automatically identifying, counting, and describing wild animals in camera-trap images with deep learning’ (PDF)



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    Jeff Clune
    Jeff Clune is the former Loy and Edith Harris Associate Professor in Computer Science at the University of Wyoming, a Senior Research Manager and founding member of Uber AI Labs, and currently a Research Team Leader at OpenAI. Jeff focuses on robotics and training neural networks via deep learning and deep reinforcement learning. He has also researched open questions in evolutionary biology using computational models of evolution, including studying the evolutionary origins of modularity, hierarchy, and evolvability. Prior to becoming a professor, he was a Research Scientist at Cornell University, received a PhD in computer science and an MA in philosophy from Michigan State University, and received a BA in philosophy from the University of Michigan. More about Jeff’s research can be found at