Cornell’s All About Birds Lab: Merlin

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s All About Birds Labs is hard at work developing Merlin™, an online bird identification tool that needs your help to shape the artificial intelligence engine. All you need to do is play Merlin’s Bird Color Challenge: After staring at an image of a bird for five seconds, you are asked to select the bird’s three most prominent colors from a pallet of choices. After you’ve made your selection, you are given a pie-chart that illustrates how others responded. Next, there’s Mark My Bird, a follow-up program that asks runs you through a battery of questions about a single bird.

How does this help? Logging your observations helps train a computer to solve bird ID questions. It also helps hone your observation skills – or at least matches them against your peers. Although it may not be a good pastime for the colorblind, for everyone else Merlin’s challenge is a good opportunity to log some citizen science sweat equity on a rainy day from the comfort of your living room sofa.

And by crowd-sourcing the artificial intelligence engine, with every click we’ll be that much closer to developing the Swiss clockwork necessary to fuel the field guides of the future – digital resources like Merlin that turn LBBs (little brown birds) into LBVIs (Least Bell’s vireos).


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