From binoculars to big data: Citizen scientists use emerging technology in the wild

Interview by Rebecca Kondos: “For years, citizen scientists have trekked through local fields, rivers, and forests to observe, measure, and report on species and habitats with notebooks, binoculars, butterfly nets, and cameras in hand. It’s a slow process, and the gathered data isn’t easily shared. It’s a system that has worked to some degree, but one that’s in need of a technology and methodology overhaul.

Thanks to the team behind and their Wildbook software, both citizen and professional scientists are becoming active participants in using AI, computer vision, and big data. Wildbook is working to transform the data collection process, and citizen scientists who use the software have more transparency into conservation research and the impact it’s making. As a result, engagement levels have increased; scientists can more easily share their work; and, most important, endangered species like the whale shark benefit.

In this interview, Colin Kingen, a software engineer for WildBook, (with assistance from his colleagues Jason Holmberg and Jon Van Oast) discusses Wildbook’s work, explains classic problems in field observation science, and shares how Wildbook is working to solve some of the big problems that have plagued wildlife research. He also addresses something I’ve wondered about: why isn’t there an “uberdatabase” to share the work of scientists across all global efforts? The work Kingen and his team are doing exemplifies what can be accomplished when computer scientists with big hearts apply their talents to saving wildlife….(More)”.