AI helps prove geese can recognize individual faces

Geese have a lot of drama. Not only do these animals deal with jealousy and retribution, but they also apparently have arch-rivals. While scientists have known that, they haven’t been fully aware of how the geese tell each other apart. Now, thanks to the work of an AI facial recognition system, we finally know that geese can recognize different faces.

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The breakthrough came after Sonia Kleindorfer became director of the Konrad Lorenz Research Center for Behavior and Cognition in Vienna, Austria. Kleindorfer’s predecessor, a famous Austrian biologist named Konrad Lorenz, was so well versed with the local Greylag Geese, that he could name them just from looking at their faces on a plaque (via NPR).

After Kleindorfer got the job, she struggled to pull off the same feat, eventually turning to a colleague to create an AI-powered facial recognition system. The system was fed a database worth of photos of the geese from every angle, eventually allowing it to name them off just using the markers on their beaks.

Greylag goose (Anser anser) closeImage source: Piotr Krzeslak / Adobe

From there, though, Kleindorfer took things a step further. To fully understand how the previously mentioned goose drama plays out, they used the photos to see if the geese could recognize other geese. The researchers found that not only could they recognize the photos of their partners and friends, but they couldn’t recognize their own image, since they don’t see reflections easily.

It was a huge breakthrough in understanding just how far geese can experience facial recognition, an a pivotal point in learning more about how geese push their drama forward. Instead of relying on other markers to identify each other, the geese appear to identify their friends, partners, and enemies based on their faces. Possibly by the same markers the AI used.

With so many people proclaiming the doom and gloom of AI in recent months, and Boston Dynamics even going so far as to make a talking robot dog that uses ChatGPT, it’s nice to see AI being put to more scientific measures. This, of course, isn’t the first time that we’ve used facial recognition to tell animals apart, but it has let us learn a lot more about the inner workings of the daily soap opera that is life as a goose.


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