Can gaming solve a puzzle for camera trap conservationists? (commentary)

Can gaming solve a puzzle for camera trap conservationists? (commentary)

A few years ago I was catching butterflies in a strip of rainforest in Panama. One day the camp welcomed a team of jet-lagged vagabonds dragging their rollers full of flashlights and 3D scanners. I thought they were a film crew, but if so they didn’t seem to have much of a script: they photographed and scanned whatever came their way—leaves, dead leaves, bugs, dead bugs. It turned out they were developers from a well-known game studio, here deep in the Cordillera to capture details of natural objects for their next big open world game. It wasn’t ironic that even in a fantasy world, the developers wanted the virtual flora and fauna to be as realistic as possible. Player immersion was the key—one of the developers’ name cards had “smell the grass” printed in stylized font. A tenet of the modern conservation movement is the intrinsic value of biodiversity, but out there in the jungle, I thought, was a rakish horde of digital nomads who cherished biodiversity for a very alien reason: virtual world immersion. Over the years, their effort to digitally preserve our biosphere was facilitated by advances in game engine rendering capability  and has enlivened cyberspace and gaming consoles: bringing players the thrill of elk-hunting in the 19th century Rocky Mountains or that of horse-riding in a post-apocalyptic Pacific temperate forest. Increasingly I have also observed that tools used by game developers are helping real-world conservationists. Figure from the study “Synthetic Examples Improve Generalization for Rare Classes,” May…This article was originally published on Mongabay

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