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Episode 7: How AI could save the planet’s biodiversity?

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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.

Resources:

How Artificial Intelligence Could Save the Planet

A Multilateral AI Strategy for Biodiversity and Restoration

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Sciences et technologie

Episode 9: Fighting Mental Health Issues: Combining Emotional Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

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In a world overflowing with speed, traffic jams, car horns, huge work overloads, and bad news, people find themselves submerged by negativity and stressful incidents. It’s not surprising, and alarming, that nearly one billion people worldwide suffer from mental health disorders. Every 40 seconds, a person dies by suicide.

These numbers are getting higher by the rapid emergence of a global pandemic. In fact, the loss of a loved one, the fear of being contaminated or of contaminating those around them, and the increasing scarcity of social relationships are major factors that make people prone to anxiety, stress, overthinking, depression and trauma.

Despite all these discouraging facts, science continues to evolve and find a solution to every problem. By making mental health a topic of concern, AI has gone one step further in its research and innovations to finally create systems helping people deal with stress and depression. These tools are built based on deep learning models, voice and image recognition, and natural language processing, in order to analyze and monitor people’s behaviors and emotions. By recognizing tone and speed of speech, the AI systems can track stress levels and identify the persons who are struggling with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.  This seems a huge step when talking about emotional artificial intelligence. Nevertheless, the power of Machine Learning does not only lie in its ability to diagnose mental health problems but another alternative that focuses on therapy is now being developed.

Therapeutic AI Chatbots offer indeed a sort of therapy directed to the concerned persons. Moodkit, Woebot, and Wysa are all mental health chatbots that offer cognitive insights and behavioral change based on cognitive-behavioral techniques, one of the most heavily researched clinical approaches to treating depression.

Let’s take the example of Woebot. This free chatbot uses natural language processing and sentiment analysis to interpret a user’s input and generate personalized responses. To make things simple, imagine you’re conversing with a friend but not a common one. Actually, this friend asks you direct questions in order to assess your thoughts and mood and hence help you re-evaluate your thought patterns.

In essence, a Woebot user will receive individualized responses that are usually useful tips aiming to modify one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The pictures below show examples of Woebot chatting with users:

Generally speaking, AI therapeutic chatbots were of great help to their users. There has often been positive feedback about the effectiveness of these AI-based applications. Woebot, for example, has shown a significant decrease in anxiety and depression among its users in 2 weeks only.

According to psychologists, these AI tools can help a lot with some mental health issues. However, medical assistance is a major process essential in overcoming mental health problems especially when the individual suffers from severe symptoms (e.g. Major Depressive Disorder) that would likely require a higher level of care.

On that account, it’s not about AI manipulating us or replacing humans as some may think. Still, on the other hand, this much success gained by AI Chatbots leads to some questions we should ask ourselves. Are we really doing well? Are we taking the time to listen to the people around us? Do we try to understand them, to comfort them? Or, are we so consumed by work, money, and social media that we no longer ask about the ones we love to the point that they choose to talk to a machine over opening up to us? The purpose of this questioning is not to enter into a circle of self-blame but to rethink our behavior towards our loved ones.

Let’s listen to each other. Let’s notice the persons around us whom mental health issues are kept untold and let’s accompany them in taking adequate therapy because everyone needs help and support and no one should bear the weight of mental disorders alone.

Resources:
Treating Your Stress with AI Technology
10 octobre 2020: C’est la journée mondiale de la santé mentale
Woebot: A Professional Review

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