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Facial-recognition technology showing pig expression (copy)

Three-dimensional facial-recognition technology enables researchers to monitor pig-health issues and welfare.

Lions and tigers and bears, let’s scan. And they do. Get scanned that is. Facial recognition is not just for people anymore.

Returning to this country after European travel, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were a bit taken aback by the lines at machines ready to take their photo. It became clear as they approached that this was to identify them. The computers matched them to their passport picture. It is very 21st century, a bit creepy, and maybe just a little threatening to first-time travelers.

Typing in information and having a photo taken doesn’t sound that bad until you realize that buzzers might go off or you might not be who you think you are. It is more than a bit intimidating to the less frequent traveler.

Facial recognition software has done much to expedite passage though gates and barriers. It verifies identities at airports and other places, and can pick out criminals in nanoseconds. They say it enhances security. It has identified parole violators, tracked addicted gamblers at casinos and serves as a public service as much as an expedient way to move people along.

Other uses have been to take school attendance, track church attendance — yes, you read that right — and match people on dating sites. Leave it to China to come up with using it to stop toilet paper thieves in public restrooms. The computer is programmed to only release paper every 9 minutes; in hopes a new face will appear. Remind me not to use public restrooms if I ever go to China.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, even in the world of high-tech. Therefore, I am only mildly surprised by the adaptation of facial recognition entering into the world of animals, both domestic and in the wild.

Until recently, animals have been identified by ear tags, but animals, being animals, tend to chew them off. I am referring to cows, pigs and any other four-legged critter that likes to chew on either their own or their neighbors’ ears.

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Facial recognition seemed to be a perfect solution until the photographers encounter curious animals whose tongues lap anything within reach or whose snouts don’t stay still for very long. There have also been cases of attacks on the employees of companies offering these services to owners of said animals. No one considered this possibility when they decided to use this method for identification. And another thing, they didn’t take into account the challenge of locating the exact focal point of a cow’s nose. Talk about a moving target.

Bovines pose a problem, but the pig family is even less benign when it comes to posing. Selfie sticks eliminate some unwanted contacts, but there still seems to be a few glitches to be worked out with farm animals and animals in the wild.

Meanwhile, pet owners are being reunited with their missing Rovers and Fluffys because this technology is as easy as an app on your cellphone. Oh, and if you have more than one pet, a smart pet feeder visually recognizes each pet and places the right amount of food in the dish for that specific animal. What possibly could go wrong with that?

I understand keeping tabs on lions and tigers in the wild. There may be a need to follow mating habits and identify diseases, but tracking my chicken dinner from farm to table with an app seems a bit over the top.

Taking the prize for using digitized features is the site called Doggle Ganger — not to be confused with Doppelganger. This ingenious group of pet lovers uses facial recognition to pair a human to his canine look-a-like. This use of Doggle Ganger matches has been quite successful in getting otherwise homeless pets adopted. Doesn’t everyone want a dog with a family resemblance?

Whether domestic or in the wild, animals have joined the high-tech ranks with facial recognition.

Protecting elephants from poachers and lemurs from extinction seems like a good use of technology, but whether whales and dolphins will eventually want their own Facebook page or circulate selfies remains to be seen.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at

kaystellpflug@gmail.com.

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