Automatic iNat suggestion for "unknown" observations that reach a certain age

To go from unknown to something (as in plantae, fungi, etc) would still only be one ID, so it won’t be RG and would appear in needs id pool… And because of the age of the obs, it would likely be quite far back, so only “power IDers” are going to see it. I say go as specific as the CV/AI allows!


I’m more generalist than some I guess, but I do filter by “plants” all the time (and by a location). Sometimes I will specify vascular plants but usually I just mark the mosses I don’t know as reviewed and maybe that helps me slowly get a feel for what is around. I rarely include “something”s and almost always exclude animals and fungi. I am way more likely to see something marked as “plants” than “something”


Talking with our devs, something like this is technically possible, maybe running slow in the background and for much older observations. Whether or not it’s worth it, or would be a good idea is up for debate. A few issues I would have with it:

  • Philosophically, would I want my observation to automatically be categorized by an AI? I understand the potential utility, but is that what iNat is about? How would the ID be counted in the Community ID section?

  • Since Identify weights newly-added observations by default (although that can be changed in Filters), this may not help surface older observations very well.

  • I think preventing these from being posted is a better long-term solution, which means better onboarding. Perhaps a notice or two for new users if they try to post an observation without an ID. Or (maybe it’s just nostalgia) but I wouldn’t mind seeing the return of iconic taxa buttons when making an ID.


I would strongly be in favor of this change. I sometimes click on the observation catalog of specific users, and I often see these “unknowns” mixed in. I can’t imagine how many useful observations are stuck in limbo like this. I’m also one of the “power IDers” who regularly goes through observations stuck at higher-level taxa, but I can’t get to an observation if it doesn’t show up there for me to look at. At the very least, these “unknowns” should be lumped together to make them easily searchable.


My personal opinion is having my observation ID’d by the AI is no different from an identifier using the AI to bring up suggested IDs and then putting one of them on my observation (which can happen to any observation of anyone now). The only difference is that the AI probably won’t respond to comments, but, again, that’s the case with many identifiers now.


if you’re thinking of going down this road, i think it would be better to add a separate field altogether for computer vision ID, maybe displayed in the UI as a box below the existing community ID box in the observation detail page. (the CV ID would be added at the creation of the observation. no need to wait for a given date. and if someone didn’t want to see it, they could just collapse that section.) a separate field makes it possible for different people to decide how old is too old for unknowns, since user A could pick up CID unknowns + CV ID spiders at one year, for example, while user B could pick up CID unknowns + CV ID spiders at one month. it could also offer an interesting way to compare CID vs CV ID en masse.


The CV-based observations are already marked – I agree that an automatic cv annotation would help get observations seen by the appropriate experts. I try to go though and do this manually – tweaking cv suggestions based on location, my own knowledge, etc – but it seems like an inefficient use of time.

Alternately – perhaps “unknown” observations could remain marked “unknown”, but show up in searches based on the cv best-guess when no other information is present?


I think you would need to actually run and save the CV guess rather than this. On the fly running of the CV against all unknown observations every time someone ran a search is likely extremely server intensive and unlikely to run in any kind of acceptable time.

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Completely agree. It’s mostly a bookkeeping thing; keeping the automatic CV guess … discreet … unless someone has manually approves it.

I just now notice that there’s sometimes a “placeholder” field that might be similar to what I’m describing. This is a subtlety I hadn’t picked up that looks like it might be important…

Would probably also need to be re-created if/when observation photos change, and whenever there are significant changes to the CV system (as recently happened).

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I do like the idea of an obs getting auto-ID’d with a CV choice if it hasn’t been given any ID at all after a reasonable time, say 12 months. Usually by then someone has got around to putting it to Order or Family, but if the auto-ID was put at the Order or Family of the leading CV suggestion, then I think that would be at least comparable to a volunteer identifier doing so with taxa that they are not familiar with. Still marked with the CV symbol of course. It would cut down a lot of grunt work. They would still be in the Needs ID pool, but would become included in the filtered ID pools that many specialists limit themselves to.


I periodically go thru the Unknown taxon to put obvious things where knowing eyes can see them. Some of them just can’t be IDd because of poor photos or you just can’t see what they think is the organism. Others are observations including photos of several organism that need to be split, so they can’t be identified either. Many of them are from people who started years ago and then became inactive.

Would it work to have a category for that?

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@jbecky I think there is, sorta: There’s a checkbox at the bottom of the page where you can specify “this observation cannot be further improved”, or some such. I’m … not actually sure what this does, but I assume it takes it out of rotation from needs-ID pools.

I know if two people have marked it as life, it does change it to casual, so it’s out of the ID pool. Not sure in other cases. I try to name in down to the lowest common denominator that I know, note as a comment the photos are of different subjects, and if I’m the second are later to do so, flag it as good as can be.

Wow - that actually seems kind of undesirable, since certain types of difficult identifications (among algae, or between fungi or slimes, or of microbes) are easiest to find bc they are marked “life”.


They are marked as “unknown”, not “life”. They become “life” after someone marks it as algae, then someone marks it as red algae. And while it is true someone could mark it as life, no one seems to do so. It is amazing the amount of obvious insect, plant, arthropods, etc. that are lingering at “unknown”, let alone the things that can only be determined to be life.


There are a lot of observations with no ID out there. It takes a lot of human work to ID all of those to just kingdom or phylum so that the experts can find the observations and ID them further. I suggest a bot that IDs these unreviewed observations. It could be the same account that automatically marks some species (like Picea pungens) as not-wild. This bot would find observations that have gone one month or more without being IDed, and would use computer vision to give them a kingdom level ID. I think this would really help with getting unreviewed observations to identifiers. If kingdom isn’t enough, it could go to phylum or class, but that gets risky. Also, as to not cause problems with the computer vision training, an observation IDed only by this bot would not be used to train the computer vision, because that would be too recursive. Would this put too much effort on the servers, or would it be too risky to use the computer vision that much?


@mws My apologies, just after approving your feature request, I realized there is already an existing feature request for essentially the same thing. So I have merged it here.


I think this would result in way more State of Matter Life observations than there already are, unless the bot could also read the observer’s description and/or any placeholder to know whether it is the plant or the butterfly or the cat in the photo that is the subject.

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It could be made so that the bot’s ID is automatically retracted when a real person IDs the observation, so that errors in the computer vision that might cause bad photos to be mis-IDed does’t result in state of matter life observations.