Planet China

Hi-tech hogs

Facial recognition is being adopted across many areas of life in China: from paying for fast food and boarding high-speed trains through to catching criminals at pop concerts and making sure that students are paying attention in class.

The New York Times has been reporting another focus for the sector this week: keeping pigs healthy.

The backdrop is that China’s pork industry has been laid low by African swine fever, forcing the culling of more than a million pigs. Farmers want predictive powers for when the disease might strike, so companies like Alibaba and JD.com have been experimenting with facial recognition to monitor pig health. Alibaba’s approach even adds sound recognition to check on how the animals are coughing.

Dirk Pfeiffer, a professor of veterinary epidemiology at the City University of Hong Kong, pointed to a few challenges for the plan if it is really going to deliver new standards in animal health. The industry needs a national database of pig faces, for instance.

Another problem is the expense, the New York Times says. Tagging ears (the normal way of tracking a pig’s condition) costs about $0.30 per animal but facial mapping amounts to as much as $7 per pig.


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