We lived in this world for many thousand years. But in the last couple of centuries, we’ve started to ruin the earth ruthlessly. We filled oceans with plastics, destroyed forests, killed animals for sport, and whatnot. This list is endless. And the impact is arduous to recover from.
The plastic we talk about is invisible to the naked eye that floats in the ocean, where big ships sometimes go missing. Forests turned into deserts where there are no signs of life for miles. Many species have already vanished. And more, like Tigers and Blue whales, are in the blink of extinction.
We need a powerful companion to reverse the damages. And, we have her (or him, if you prefer) — AI.
Scientists and humanitarians tried several techniques to recover from the disaster. Yet, industrial pollution and public unawareness dwarfed their efforts.
The last decade was promising. Many AI-powered projects have shown remarkable results. Here is a list of such projects that inspired me. These are the ones that give me a higher purpose to contribute more to the data science community.
How is AI re-greening desert lands?
By the time you finish reading this sentence, we’ve already lost forests the size of a football field. Thanks to (or should I say, cursed by) the superior technology, we strip down 48 football-field-sized forests every minute.
Sure, this rate is alarming. On the other hand, AI helps scientists to bring back forests in deserts that were once jungles.
Counting Trees in the Sahara Desert.
To improve something, first, we need to measure it. But counting trees in a desert isn’t a walk in the park. The research team from the University of Copenhagen nailed it with computer vision technologies.
Unlike in rainforests, trees in deserts and grassland don’t form clusters and create jungles. They instead scatter throughout the dryland. This makes counting difficult in traditional methods.
Image credit: https://www.theguardian.com/
The research team used computer vision and NASA’s satellite images to tackle the problem. They pinpoint thousands of trees in the widespread Sahara desert within hours. The results are astonishing. Contrary to popular belief, Sahara is home to 1.8 Billion trees.
Planting Trees using AI and drones.
Dendra, a UK-based tech company, is eager to plant 500 billion trees in the next 40 years. Currently, the company is using satellite images, computer vision, and drones.
Image credit: WWF/Dendra
Their AI models use satellite images and data collected from drones to spot areas for replanting. The company claims its drones could plant seeds at 120 pods per hour.
The company’s estimates, restoring forests can be 150 times faster, yet about 10 times cheaper.
And what about forests currently under threat?
While recreating forests at incredible speed, AI also contributes to protecting existing forests. Several hazardous conditions impose severe threats to our forests’ health. Fighting them back without the help of technology is unthinkable.
A research team from the University of California, San Diego, does this. It uses several sensor data to predict wildfires and take early actions to prevent out-of-control situations. BurnPro 3D, an AI-powered product, also advises where to set an intentional fire to avoid huge losses.
A German research team protects its forests from several hazards, such as heat, drought, and infections. The country has lost almost 43% of its forests since 1980. The project uses a cloud-based AI-powered decision-making system. With it, foresters could make optimal decisions for several problems.
Besides the natural threats, researchers also developed techniques to prevent man-made issues. AI helps Madagascar’s rosewood and ebony trees from illegal logging.
How AI removes plastics in vast oceans?
The amount of plastic in the ocean has reached an insane level. Beyond this point, we’ve got to rely on technology to speed up its cleaning.
Ocean plastics are a severe threat to both marine animals as well as for humans. Marine animals often ingest plastic because they are easy to get confused with their usual food. Some suffer for their life with plastic entangled around their body. These plastics are sometimes invisible and could cause serious health issues for humans as well.
The ocean cleanup project is a remarkable effort on this front. It both prevents plastics from entering the ocean and cleans it up when they did.
Image credit: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai/ai-for-earth-the-ocean-cleanup
It uses areal images to find out plastic particles and the underwater current to study their movements. It then directs the cleanup effort prioritizing the severe locations.
The project team aims to cut plastics entering the ocean by 80% by intercepting rivers.
How do scientists use AI to protect endangered species?
We lose not only forests but also wildlife at an alarming rate. Extinction is near for species like blue whales, tigers, and rhinos. When a species disappears, they also take with them several others. This chain effect will also have an impact on our survival as well.
Several projects are aimed at protecting Whales. Whales have a significant threat besides the active hunting known as whaling. Several thousand whales die every year due to collisions with ships.
Image credit: NOAA
Whale deaths due to ship collisions have increased by a massive margin since 2018. These species haven’t developed the instincts to differentiate engine sounds. And the gigantic modern cargos are hard for sudden maneuver. Hence, we are in need to find out intelligent solutions to avoid accidents.
A project by Simon Fraser University uses AI to warn ships before they strike with a whale. The team uses underwater hydrophones to collect sounds from the water. Then they use AI to distinguish whale sounds and automatically warn any ships passing by.
Whale safe, a multi-institutional collaboration, is doing an incredible job in this space. The project uses AI to locate whales using their calls. They use specialized underwater acoustic equipment to identify the calls with precision.
In 2018, Intel, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF,) and Haikangwei, a tech partner, launched the “Northeast Tiger Protection-End-to-End Artificial Intelligence Monitoring System.” The project uses intelligent cameras and cloud processing to digitize wildlife conservation. The project has striking success in surveying the Siberian tiger population.
The Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences developed a tool to help rangers fight against poachers. Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS) is an AI-powered system that assists rangers in focusing on the most vulnerable area first.
We live in a time that is both cursed and blessed — cursed with the impacts of our bad behavior, blessed with AI.
I’ve listed some of the beautiful work scientists did in the recent past. These good works reverse the damage to the earth as well as prevent further losses. These are only a handful of research among thousands of genuine interests.
AI helps protect endangered species, assists the forests to recover, cleans up plastic-infested waters, and a lot more. Isn’t this a worthy cause to support data science?
We’ve come to a point where AI is vital for our survival because the issues we created and their impacts are humongous.
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