The nose leather (the tip of the nose) of a dog contains a unique “noseprint” like a human’s fingerprint which does no alter over time. This critical fact has allowed a Chinese artificial intelligence start-up company to track lost dogs using their noseprints and it will allow the Chinese authorities to do what they’re good at which is to monitor “uncivilised dog keeping”. In other words they will be able to find out who is failing to discharge their responsibilities as a dog owner to the required standard! It sounds a bit sinister and it probably is.
However, it is a clever way to identify a dog and there’s lots of advantages to identifying dogs. Perhaps they might extend this to cats as I’m sure that cats also have unique noseprints. You download software to your smartphone (cellphone) and you photograph your dog’s nose from different angles. You upload a picture of your dog’s nose and receive a digital identity card. Once the dog is registered officials can identify it by scanning the animal’s nose with security cameras in public places, as I understand it.
A Chinese city is launching this identification system to keep track of stray dogs and also to prevent insurance fraud. The eastern city of Hangzhou is piloting this system as there are an estimated 100,000 dogs in the city. Many are unregistered.
The software is owned by Alibaba which is based in the city. A problem with the system is that dog owners don’t always obtain a sufficiently sharp picture of the dog’s nose. As a photographer I can understand this because it has to be a close-up picture. And the dog has to be static and/or the shutter speed has to be sufficiently fast to freeze motion. Most people are rather poor photographers and they rely on their smartphone camera for assistance in auto mode to decide the shutter speed. But this project needs the photographer i.e. the dog owner, to be aware of the need of a fast shutter speed and there are depth of field problems too. I can envisage many of the photographs being insufficiently sharp for the software to work.
As I understand it a Chinese start-up involved in AI technology is involved in this. They are called Megvii. They claim that the accuracy is 95% and that they have reunited 15,000 pets with their owners through the app. We know that the Chinese are very advanced in developing human facial recognition systems using millions of cameras in public places to keep an eye on miscreant citizens. It’s a big brother scenario which is unsurprising in that country.
There is a need to improve companion animal registration. Microchips are not completely successful for various reasons. They are not evidence of ownership and sometimes people fail to update the data and others don’t microchip their animals. I can foresee this technology being used more widely but hopefully not in a sinister way.