Innovations in Data Science and machine learning have brought the benefits of Artificial Intelligence to bear on our daily lives. By working alongside machines, people can now accomplish more by doing less. Putting AI into good use can help solve some of the world’s most urgent and difficult problems rather than helping organize our calendars, order our groceries, or play games.
One of the most fundamental global problems today is the exponential loss of biodiversity. In fact, scientists say that our planet is in the middle of its sixth mass extinction, the worst one since the extinction of dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. And that is due to countless direct and indirect human actions, such as poaching (illegal hunting or capturing of animals), overpopulation, habitat destruction, and climate change. Our planet’s rich biodiversity is taking such a huge hit.
In this fight against human greed, AI models have turned into an unlikely ally, helping save our planet, paradoxically from our own hands.
Today, environmentalists are facing unfair odds as hunters call on the latest technology in night-vision goggles, military-grade weaponry, and sophisticated transportation. But thanks to the immense power of deep learning, AI has unlocked the ability to rapidly scan, process, and analyze a variety of signals, identify risks accurately, and provide almost immediate alerts to the authorities.
It is a type of AI system that is particularly effective at pattern recognition and identification. For example, when these models are given thousands of pictures of whale sharks, they can learn to spot a unique whale shark from a future sighting, with remarkable accuracy let alone handle unstructured data such as images, videos, and audio clips. This incredible feature can help solve another urgent matter which is species collection.
To this day, scientists have discovered and described only 1.5 million species of the estimated 10 million on earth. At current rates, we will have to wait almost 500 years to collect all the estimated species and by then, most of them may be extinct. AI and associated technologies have the ability to close this information gap cost effectively and efficiently with hardware becoming increasingly cheap and power-efficient enough to deploy monitoring systems on the ground, on animals, in the sky, and up in space. Early work is proving that algorithms can sift through the massive amounts of data streaming back from these monitoring systems. In turn, humans and machines can begin to identify the plants, birds, fish, and other species captured by these remotely deployed cameras, microphones, and more sometimes down to the unique individual. And we are finding new ways to deploy these technologies every day. For example, Microsoft is working on ways to use organisms such as mosquitoes as small, self-powered data collection devices that can help us better understand an ecosystem through the animals they feed on.
Artificial intelligence can help us understand land-use patterns as well. Microsoft and others are experimenting with ways to turn high-resolution imagery into land cover maps. These maps provide an unprecedented view of what is where, and how it is changing. This in turn helps governments, organizations, and researchers make more informed decisions about when, where, and how to deploy conservation efforts most effectively for the greatest impact. This creates a virtuous cycle of learning, as all this information can then be fed back into AI systems, making them smarter. Thus, AI methods make it possible to build a digital dashboard for the planet, allowing us to monitor, model, and manage environmental systems at a scale like never seen before.
The most obvious use of AI indeed seems to be for further extraction, consumption, and production. However, in the middle of a climate crisis, and with a deteriorating ecosystem, species are dying. Artificial intelligence can be a magical silver bullet that will help us restore the planet. It won’t be an easy journey, but by applying the power of AI to help both humans and our natural systems thrive, we can help provide a better and healthier future for the planet.
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Perseverance Rover: Humanity’s newest feat
February 19th, 2021 marks a new historical event in the space exploration journey, as NASA scientists rejoice.
NASA’s 2020 Mars mission successfully landed on Mars. This mission includes the Perseverance Rover along with other experiments.
While descending to touch down on the red planet, we got a close-up picture of the Perseverance rover, the first-ever high-resolution color image to be sent back by the Hazard Cameras that is most likely to become a classic photograph in the history of spaceflight.
A 360° rotation of its mast allowed the Mastcam-Z instrument to capture its first panorama, and we also got the first-ever audio recording from the red planet thanks to a microphone on the rover.
The camera system covered the whole landing process, showing the intense ride and the so-called « seven minutes of terror » descent sequence.
“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life.” Said NASA engineer, Swati Mohan, during the live stream of the landing.
This landing is a considerable achievement of engineering that took multiple years to attain and was one of the main difficulties of the mission. As a matter of fact, because Mars’s air is so thin, it was more difficult to slow the spacecraft while descending, and it required a parachute and rockets, among other equipment.
Another challenge that the rover faced was the dangerous terrain it was headed to. Jezero Crater, the new home to the Perseverance Rover, was riskier than previous missions, as it presents deep pits, high cliffs, and big rocks making it harder for the rover to touch down.
However, NASA managed to design new pieces that allowed Perseverance to scan the surface and navigate around any obstacles which was a huge success.
The main goal of this mission is to hunt for the remnants of life and to study the Martian rocks up to 3.8 billion years old.
With this new source of data, the knowledge about our neighboring planet will pave the way to the future, when humans will set foot on the Martian soil.