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4 Ways Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Are Helping the Environment

4 Ways Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Are Helping the Environment

The environment and technology are sometimes at odds, but they don’t always have to be. New technologies can help protect and save our environment. Here are four ways technology is working to do just that.

Rainforest Connection

The Brazilian Tembé people live on and own land in the rainforest. In recent years, they’ve had to work hard to patrol their lands and stop invaders from cutting down their trees. Around 30 people in their tribe are forest rangers who patrol the land on foot to protect it from abuse, but this approach has met conflict—deforesters sometimes bring armed guards who shoot at and kill the Tembé people.

With the help of Topher White from Rainforest Connection, the tribe now uses machine learning to identify and alert tribal leaders, in real time, of logging trucks and chainsaws in use on their property. They use devices they’ve mounted high up in trees to listen for key sounds as far away as a kilometer, much farther than what the human ear can pick up. After receiving an alert from the system, tribal leaders decide how to handle the situation, which generally means alerting the police. They can now put the copious amounts of time they used to use patrolling toward other activities.

Global Fishing Watch

Seafood companies make a lot of money with their commodity—just think about the prices some lobsters, oysters, and crabs can command. That’s one of many reasons why 80% of the world’s fish stocks are fished to capacity or overfished. The profits people can make. This strain on fish populations is often due to illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, or IUU fishing, an activity that is hard to control on the high seas.

Global Fishing Watch, an organization aimed at advancing sustainability by increasing transparency on our oceans, has developed technology that is impacting IUU fishing. With their machine learning algorithms, Global Fishing Watch is able to identify and show ship locations, ship type, and specific fishing activities or other activities each ship is engaging in. Beyond these findings, the algorithms can also identify down to the kilometer and hour where and when they fished.

Trashbot

While some items are easy to identify as recyclable, other items are harder to sort. It can be difficult to know which types of plastics should go in the recycling bin if you’re on the fly and don’t have pictures or a sign guiding you through the process, and it can also be hard to motivate people to spend time sorting their trash.

That’s why one company decided to develop a trash bin that sorts trash for you as it’s being thrown out. As a person throws away their trash, the trash can, called Trashbot, employs cameras, sensors, and a Bayesian classifier, to scan and sort recyclables.

Plankton as Sensors

Plankton can do more than feed large Baleen whales living in the ocean. They also act as ocean, lake, and river sensors because they’re extremely sensitive to shifts in water. If their behavior changes, it can indicate changing water quality or temperature. But we need to know more about plankton reactions to water changes to understand what these tiny creatures may be telling us. Maybe there’s been an oil spill, chemical runoff, or a looming red tide.

IBM has created a small microscope for in-ocean observation of plankton behavior. Until now, scientists generally observe plankton behavior in a lab, but with IBM deploying their ocean microscopes around the world (or at least that’s the current aim) observing them in their natural habitat will help us understand plankton behavior better, leading to identifying when something goes wrong in our oceans.

These four applications of artificial intelligence are just some innovative and interesting ways technology is helping protect our environment. With enough interest in applications like these, more environmentalist-technologists can help our environment.