Artificial intelligence (AI) is booming on college campuses, with new programs starting on a regular basis. Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, and the University of Rhode Island are just a few of the places where new courses in AI are being offered.
One reason for AI’s popularity is that its real-world applications are nearly limitless. Self-driving cars, facial recognition software, and personal assistance devices are just a few examples of how computers currently make intelligent decisions for us in our daily lives.
Now, AI is being applied to preventing the extinction of animals. According to a study in the 2017 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the world is currently in the midst of a mass extinction of animals.
However, humans can take action to prevent more extinctions. Here are just a few ways that students thinking about studying AI in college can make a positive difference in wildlife preservation.
Listening to the Ashy Storm-Petrel
The Audubon Society recently reported on a research study of the Ashy Storm-Petrel by the United States Geological Survey. As the report describes, the Ashy Storm-Petrel is a seabird that nests in crevices and caves on island cliffs ranging from the central California coast south to the northwestern Mexican coast.
Accessing the nesting sites is challenging given their remote locations. A portion of the report focuses on describing how difficult these challenges are. It describes scientists as they fall in the water, scramble over rocks, and tip out of hammocks.
According to the Audubon Society, until recently, researching these birds required numerous time-consuming and laborious in-person visits to nesting sites. Now, the report explains, AI is making things easier.
The report details that scientists still make landfall on islands. However, instead of manually counting nests and conducting catch-and-release studies of the birds, they can simply place listening devices on the islands to collect data for months. Later, the report states, rather than manually coding the recorded sounds, which can take weeks, computers can do the coding for the scientists much more quickly, in just a matter of days.
The Audubon Society reports that working with these scientists is an AI software and analysis company called Conservation Metrics. The company describes its mission as improving both the efficiency and the scope of wildlife research, and it explains that it works to keep track of trends in wildlife population and distribution.
It has worked in a variety of locations, including Africa, Australia, Chile, and the United States. Additionally, boasts research projects involving frogs, parrots, owls, cats, cranes, goats, sea turtles, and penguins, along with critically endangered bats.
AI is also being used today to protect giraffes. According to the GiraffeSpotter initiative, there are fewer than 100,000 giraffes currently living wild in Africa. This marks an almost 40 percent reduction in population over 30 years. The initiative reports that giraffes have been officially recognized as vulnerable due to these plummeting numbers.
To take action, GiraffeSpotter launched its citizen science program that collects data in Chad, Kenya, Namibia, Niger, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The initiative explains that it relies on citizens to photograph both the right and left sides of individual giraffe, focusing in particular on the necks of the animals.
These photographs are then uploaded for analysis. As GiraffeSpotter describes the rest of the process, AI software identifies unique animals from the spot patterns on their necks and bodies. The photographs and accompanying data are then uploaded to a database for use by scientists.
This initiative relies on the open source software Wildbook, which was developed by the nonprofit organization WildMe in partnership with the University of Illinois-Chicago, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Princeton University. Wildbook combines AI algorithms, a data management server, an image analysis server, third-party tools and platforms, and internet tools to track animal locations, perform genetic analysis, and collect behavioral and social information about animals.
Preventing Poaching of Tigers
PAWS, which stands for Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security, is a software program developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. According to PAWS researchers, the software was developed to help protect such endangered animals as tigers from poaching.
The PAWS research group cites a population decline among tigers of more than 95 percent over the past 100 years. Additionally, three tiger species worldwide are now extinct, leaving just six species remaining.
The PAWS researchers explain that their software applies game theory to process data about poaching activity and law enforcement patrols. This helps detect patterns of behavior. Then, based on these patterns, they explain that the AI software can suggest new patrol routes to more effectively deter poachers.
The researchers note that Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park participated in early field testing. Since then, several studies have been published about the results of research involving PAWS.