- Scientists have used AI to identify the dinosaurs behind 3,300 tracks preserved at a paleontological site in Queensland, Australia.
- Human paleontologists were able to correctly identify known dinosaur footprints 75% of the time, while AI achieved 90% accuracy.
- Confident in the AI’s abilities, the researchers let the machine analyze the mysterious footprints, landing on the Ornithischians.
Ninety-three million years ago, dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, Australia still clung to Antarctica as part of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, and a very small Cretaceous drama s took place in the northeast corner of the land underground. Located in what is now Queensland, Australia, near the town of Winton, is Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackways, a remarkable paleontological find containing some 3,300 preserved dinosaur tracks. Today it is known as Australia’s “Jurassic Park”.
For years, scientists have guessed at the significance of this one-of-a-kind discovery. Was this evidence of a rare stampede of dinosaurs fleeing a T. rex– like a theropod, or was it just a popular stream crossing? This question is further complicated by the fact that the three-toed (three-toed) footprints of herbivorous ornithischians and theropod predators can be remarkably similar.
To help shed some light on the matter (and take some human subjectivity out of the equation), University of Queensland paleontologist Anthony Romilio has recruited an artificial intelligence to help scientists decipher these ancient traces. . With the help of AI, Romilio and his team confirmed that the footprints – originally thought to belong to theropods – actually belong to the more docile, herbivorous ornithischians. The researchers published their findings this week in the journal Royal society interface.
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To prepare the technology for fingerprint tracking, Romilio and his team trained an AI program called Deep Convolutional Neural Networks, which uses artificial neural networks to analyze large amounts of data through machine learning. The researchers then fed the AI more than 1,500 dinosaur footprints related to theropods and ornithischians, the two dinosaurs associated with the 93 million-year-old puzzle. The AI then combined features to help determine the categories and could “eventually find ways to distinguish between these categories that humans haven’t thought of yet,” said co-author Jens Lallensack. The Royal Society.
Then, 36 new leads were given to AI and human researchers. While Romilio could only identify tracks with up to 75% accuracy, the AI was able to correctly identify footprints 90% of the time, according to Cosmos. Once they could trust the accuracy of the AI, they then let the machine analyze the mysterious footprints at Lark Quarry.
The conclusion? The tracks belong to the Ornithischians, a group of dinosaurs dating back to the Jurassic period. This includes duck-billed hadrosaurs, horned Ceratopsia and armored Stegosauria, according to the University of California Museum of Paleontology.
This study is the first time that AI has been used to analyze dinosaur tracks and is the last walk in Romilio’s now 12-year quest to recast the drama that unfolded near Winton. This is a difficult task considering that Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackways has another name…Dinosaur Stampede National Monument.
In 2010, Romilio began exploring a theory that these particular tracks weren’t from a stampede at all, but from the remnants of a busy stream crossing. The idea exasperated some of Romilio’s colleagues at the time, who called him an “iconoclast” who somehow fabricated his data. Since then, Romilio has written the book on visualizing dinosaur tracks (no, like he literally wrote a book about it), and training AI to identify footprints could be the next big step in solving these Cretaceous mysteries.
“A track is the result of several factors, including the anatomy of the foot, the consistency of the substrate, the movements of the animal that made the track, and the alteration of the track that occurred after it was formed,” Lallensack said. The Royal Society. “To go further, we need powerful quantitative methods rather than human intuition, and neural networks can really be a game-changer.”
This growing technology of the future may need to explore the intimate mysteries of the past.
Darren lives in Portland, has a cat, and writes/edits about science fiction and how our world works. You can find his previous stuff at Gizmodo and Paste if you look hard enough.
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