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I've seen an exponential uptick in Merlin sound ID posts recently, and until last week, I had not used it much, relying on the 'old method' of using my actual ears to listen, and then using my legs to walk over to some trees and then using my eyes to look at the bird making the sound. :)
Clearly it is a fun tool, and it would be good to get the context of how it is being used by people, especially newer birders that have all this tech at their fingertips, rather than actually how accurate it is.
I tried it out last week and in the cacophony of birds I could hear, that I knew to be singing, it pulled out a Yellow-throated Vireo before my brain had put a name to a call and then flagged a White-eyed Vireo, a scarce migrant and a species I neither heard nor saw.
Pretty cool, right? Well maybe. It felt like the ears of God were listening and then telling me I failed to notice something. Was the vireo real? Who knows? But I didn't like that feeling that some app had possibly gotten one up on me in my live birding!
That is the gist of what I am seeing, or hearing, is that it seems Merlin is being used to do the heavy lifting for people and perhaps there is a valuable opportunity being missed here, if you want to become a better birder. If not, then each to their own, but I think that, for example, there is a responsibility to not report birds on a Listserve, or to a wider audience, that was "app detected", or has a level of fallibility attached to it? I don't want to know about your sketchy birds..lol!
There is something I enjoyed even as a new birder back in the day - the dopamine hit of the hunt and the challenge of getting it right. I wonder if that aspect is being missed out on? Maybe many people are getting into the hobby post-Covid and are simply happy to have their birding be at "x" level and enjoy using an app that tells them basically what most of the stuff is. Totally cool to bird how you want to bird.I guess, from my own perspective, I am curious about how adopters are feeling about this app.
I certainly find Merlin to be useful to alert you to a call in the background that might be something interesting to seek out, or to confirm your own suspicions, but with much of the AI technology, there are definitely some pros and cons, especially when it comes to people reporting birds that "Merlin says is X". It's hard to trust a computer that tells you there is a species present that you didn't see, or if you did see it, you have to run an image you took with another device and have that device run it through Merlin's ID app to tell you what the bird is that may, or may not, be the bird singing that you didn't know was there until the app told you. Crazy times, eh?
Trusting AI completely to operate in the best, most accurate way possible, is a lofty goal, but it also brings problems. Ask Skynet.
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