Automated species identification: why not?

Kevin J. Gaston, Mark A. O'Neill


Where possible, automation has been a common response of humankind to many activities that have to be repeated numerous times. The routine identification of specimens of previously described species has many of the characteristics of other activities that have been automated, and poses a major constraint on studies in many areas of both pure and applied biology. In this paper, we consider some of the reasons why automated species identification has not become widely employed, and whether it is a realistic option, addressing the notions that it is too difficult, too threatening, too different or too costly. Although recognizing that there are some very real technical obstacles yet to be overcome, we argue that progress in the development of automated species identification is extremely encouraging that such an approach has the potential to make a valuable contribution to reducing the burden of routine identifications. Vision and enterprise are perhaps more limiting at present than practical constraints on what might possibly be achieved.