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Clean water, safe energy, and ample food supplies are critical priorities for human beings around the world. In fact, the United Nations lists these among its Sustainable Development Goals, which it states must be achieved by 2030 in order to ensure that "no one is left behind."
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one powerful way to apply human ingenuity to solving global problems. A number of organizations and companies are using AI to combat climate change, preserve endangered species, protect forests, and reduce pollution. Let's look at a few examples:
Terrafuse - Physics-enabled AI models help everyone understand climate-related risk at the hyperlocal level
One of the great strengths of AI is its ability to compare and contrast various data so that researchers can develop actionable insights. Terrafuse builds highly sophisticated, predictive fire-risk models by combining historical fire data with physical simulations and real-time satellite inputs on Microsoft Azure, where thousands of simulations are run to create risk models. While the focus began in Northern California, the results are made available via APIs and graphical interfaces to organizations responsible for wildfire risk mitigation.
OceanMind – Increasing the sustainability of global fishing by tracking fishing boats in real time and using AI to identify suspicious behavior
OceanMind leverages AI to provide MCS of IUU for RFMOs around the world. Translated, that's monitoring, control and surveillance of possible illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for regional fisheries management organizations as well as governments and other authorities. The solution uses AI algorithms on satellite and other monitoring data to identify suspicious behavior, such as vessels staying still too long or wandering outside of approved waterways.
Working with partners such as the United Kingdom, the Royal Thai Government, the Seafood Task Force, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Conservation International, Humanity United, and Microsoft, OceanMind has developed resources that catalog everything from current and historic vessel identity and fishing authorizations to vessel compliance analysis and detection of illegal vessels.
Wild Me - AI and citizen scientists work together to fight extinction
Due to extreme factors such as poaching, habitat loss, and climate change, experts project that 38% of all species could be extinct by the year 2100. One of Wild Me's accomplishments is an open-source platform called Wildbook, which combines wildlife research with AI, citizen science, and computer vision to speed analysis and develop new insights that help fight extinction. As a result, the public can select a species or even an individual animal and track its movements. The AI and related technologies required to process these images are hosted on Azure.
How does it work? Wildlife images are captured by scientists and others, then uploaded to Azure, where they are scanned with computer vision modules that use pattern recognition to identify species and individual animals. The findings are aggregated and used to help scientists monitor population sizes, animal interactions, and individual movements in an effort to prevent the permanent, irretrievable loss of species.
SilviaTerra - Transforming how conservationists and landowners measure and monitor forests
Partnering with The Nature Conservancy and Microsoft, "SilviaTerra is a small team of foresters, biometricians, and programmers dedicated to expanding our understanding of forests and strengthening our ability to manage these complex and vital ecosystems," according to its website.
SilviaTerra applies AI to solve forest inventory problems more quickly and cheaply than traditional methods. To achieve its seven-year track record of helping organizations track millions of acres of trees, SilviaTerra stores satellite imagery of forests on Azure and pairs it with U.S. Forest Service field data. Machine-learning models use the data to identify the size and species of trees. Once the models are trained, SilviaTerra applies them to terabytes of satellite imagery using Azure HDInsight. This solution now monitors all forests in the United States.
The information generated by SilviaTerra gives conservationists, governments, and landowners dramatically more information about their forests than they've ever had. More and better data turns into improved forest management, which improves ecological, social, and economic outcomes for forest owners nationwide.
PAWS – Using AI to aid conservationists in the fight against poaching
Until now, human foot patrols have been the only defense against poaching. One vivid example is the fact that poachers kill an average of 96 African elephants every day.
PAWS (Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security) was developed at the University of Southern California Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society (USC CAIS) in partnership with Panthera, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the United States Geological Survey, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and Microsoft to develop tools that would help target patrols more effectively. To accomplish this, PAWS combines historic poaching data with patrol effort records and geospatial park data, then applies custom machine learning algorithms on Azure to perform analysis. This generates a visual heat map that guides park rangers to the likeliest poaching locations, estimating the effort required to reach them and helping rangers plan their patrol routes.
To change the world, people need a versatile and powerful foundation on which to build their visions. Microsoft's AI for Earth is one such program, providing grants and support for organizations that are dedicated to improving the environmental condition of our planet. To learn more, visit https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai/ai-for-earth.