Offbeat Adventure

This App Will Help You Identify the Plants and Animals You See in Nature

Remember Pokemon Go? (Perhaps you remember it from that Snorlax you caught five minutes ago.) At the height of that mobile game's popularity, practically everywhere you'd go you could see people walking around, eyes on their phones, trying to hunt fictional monsters in their neighborhoods. The best thing about it was the fact that a digital game could urge us to go outside. Well, a digital app is pushing us outside again. And this time, it's not to learn about some made-up species, but about the world, right from your phone.

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Hide and Go Seek

Seek is a free iPhone app that's all about encouraging outdoor exploration. Rather than keeping players within the confines of their screens, it sends them on real-life searches for things in nature to earn digital rewards. The app helps educate people about the natural world in their own backyards by urging them to photograph new species of plants and animals to earn badges.

Picture Perfect

Seek uses data from iNaturalist, an online social network for nature enthusiasts. It has used the network's millions of wildlife observations to create an artificial intelligence tool that can automatically identify the subject of almost any plant or animal photo you snap and give you a summary of basic information about it. Upload a picture of any species, whether it's an insect, bird, amphibian, or plant, and Seek uses its image recognition program to match it to one of the 30,000 species in their database. It's like Shazam for nature.

If you don't know where to start, that's no problem. The app also shows you lists of plants and animals that people in your area commonly stumble across. Check the list, then just look up and start searching. Are those orange flowers California poppies? Is that big green leaf Miner's lettuce? Just snap a picture, and the app can tell you for sure.

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Love photography? Love adventures? Check out Joel Sartore's "National Geographic The Photo Ark: One Man's Quest to Document the World's Animals." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Correction 7/18/2018: A previous version of this article stated that photos taken with Seek will help improve the AI algorithm. Seek does not transmit any photographs for data use; only photos submitted via iNaturalist will help to train the AI.

Written by Annie Hartman July 16, 2018

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