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Is Artificial Intelligence the Key to Protecting Wildlife?

Selena Darlim

Posted on January 10, 2019 15:19

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The same technology powering email spam filters, Amazon's Alexa or Apple's Face ID is being used to track animal populations, identify poachers and calculate ideal monitoring routes.

Can something digital and non-existent up until the past couple of decades recognize living, procreating beings formed from centuries-old evolutionary processes better than humans can? A lot better, actually.


Why AI?

In 2018, researchers demonstrated that a type of artificial intelligence (AI) known as deep neural networks could identify types, ages and behaviors of species in the Serengeti with 96.6 percent accuracy — the same rate as human volunteers. But what took the volunteers two or three months to complete took the AI system just a couple of hours.

The potential increase in efficiency allowed by AI-equipped technologies is groundbreaking for wildlife research, a discipline already bogged down by urgency and difficulty.


A Collaborative Effort

Unlike other fields, AI technology isn't likely to reduce the number of positions available in wildlife conservation. If anything, it may encourage aspiring researchers to get involved in real-world studies.

Take Wildbook. The open source software, developed by nonprofit WildMe, automatically identifies animals based on photos of their distinctive features. So far, it has been used in citizen scientist projects regarding marine mammals, sharks, turtles and manta rays.

As the data pool grows, researchers and citizens alike will be able to learn individual animals' histories, including who they are, where they've been and who they interact with.

Over in Kenya, Wildbook enabled the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to conduct three detailed population assessments in record time.

"Before a population assessment wasn't something you could do in a weekend. It's incredible," said Jenna Stacy-Dawes, a San Diego Zoo researcher involved with the giraffe counts. "It's been really helpful in allowing us to work faster and understand the population better than we ever really could have before."


Faster Research, Better Data

While Wildbook is gaining recognition — they'll be present at a two-day AI conference in February — they're far from the only players in the game.

Other programs, such as Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS) and Air Shepherd, respectively use game theory and drones in conjunction with AI to locate poachers and predict where they are likely to strike next. 

Earlier this month, sustainability-focused nonprofit Resolve announced TrailGuard AI, a tiny remote camera that can identify both animals and humans. The developers hope the cameras will allow park rangers to catch poachers before they attack.

Beginning with Serengeti and Garamba national parks, Resolve aims to implement TrailGuard AI in 100 protected areas in Africa.


Bottom Line

While AI is often still controversial among the public, the consensus among wildlife scientists is positive in regards to research, data collection and conflict mitigation. Perhaps the trick to conserving non-human life lies in non-human intelligence.

Selena Darlim

Posted on January 10, 2019 15:19

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Source: Phys.org

When placed in protected areas, the TrailGuard artificial intelligence camera uses AI inference at the edge to detect possible...

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