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The herp-loving A.I. bot ‘Fitch’ needs your help to learn how to identify snakes

There’s a new snake-loving website that wants to crowdsource reptile and amphibian identification, and it hopes your backyard photos can help its AI bot learn how to do it. The Verge has a rundown of What’s the Herp? and its related site HerpMapper, the products of developer Don Becker and a team of IT professionals, biologists, and herpetologists who hope to remove some of the stigma surrounding snakes and their assorted relatives. “People kill things because they’re afraid of them,” Becker told The Verge. “The more you learn about something, the more you appreciate it.”

The AI bot is named Fitch, whose namesake, the late Henry S. Fitch, is known as the “father of snake biology.” The team is hoping the public will join in to assist Fitch in his endeavors.

Looking for a way to help improve #ComputerVision used by #CitizenScience projects from the comfort of your own home? Draw bounding boxes around amphibians and reptiles in images at https://t.co/GB48WtpV8l to support #Herpetology. #Herpmapper #WhatTheHerp pic.twitter.com/Drnu9LQyQE

— Christopher E. Smith, CWB(R) (@FieldEcology) December 28, 2017

You can create an account on the What the Herp site and upload your own photos, or help out by flipping through the photos already on the site and drawing boxes around the critters. Fitch is easily confused by background environments in the photos, and annotating them helps in his training. “It’s not the brightest thing in the world right now,” Becker admitted. “But it’s getting there.”

The ultimate goal is to have a way for people to identify snakes and other creatures in their backyard. “By giving people a way to identify what it is that they’re looking at, that can help dissuade people from killing it,” said Becker. They want to have at least 250 images of each species of reptile and amphibian on file, and there’s also a “Most Wanted List” to help reach that goal. You can also quiz Fitch by sending a photo to their Twitter account, and he’ll reply with his best guess as to what the creature is.

Their companion site, HerpMapper, is a non-profit designed to collect and share data about amphibians and reptiles from around the world. Members can submit images or audio files, along with the location using GPS data. Detailed location info is not available to the public, to help conserve sensitive or endangered species.

Only partners of the site, such as state biologists, university researchers, or conservation organizations can see specific location data.

Becker admits that it’s no small challenge to try and get people to like snakes. “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,” he said.

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