Did you know that scientists have identified only 1.5 million species of the 10 million estimated on Earth? And many of those species are vulnerable to extinction. Thanks to the efforts of the nonprofit Wild Me, the gigantic task of wildlife conservation is getting much-needed help from citizen scientists who photograph and film wildlife as they travel the world, plus high-tech solutions such as cloud computing. artificial intelligence and machine vision.
Create collaboration datasets
In order to make the necessary progress in the field of conservation, it will be necessary to extract data from own datasets and merge them into joint datasets. This is exactly what Wild Me and its Wildbook platform can do for the effort. The human effort that would be required to search and classify images and videos of each animal is prohibitively time consuming. With cloud computing and artificial intelligence, not only does accuracy improve, but it also reduces the time for identifying individual animals from hours when humans are doing to seconds when machines are working.
Once the specific animal has been identified by the machine analyzing its unique markings, including stripes, spots and other defining physical features such as scars, the location, time and date of the image is captured. Over time, the records for each animal continue to grow as more citizen scientists and researchers replenish the image catalog. The data collected on each animal can be used by wildlife experts to track health, migration, and other important facts about a species. Scientists can use this species information along with climate, geographic, behavioral and environmental data to better understand the ecological and conservation issues they face.
Wild Me began with whale shark tracking, a project launched in 2003 after Jason Holmberg, Wild Me’s technical director and Wildbook’s chief information architect, went scuba diving and saw his first whale shark. After that initial meeting, he joined a research expedition and learned how whale sharks were tracked at the time using plastic tags. Unfortunately, these plastic tags were rarely seen again, making it nearly impossible to collect enough data on each individual animal.
Holmberg believed there was a more effective way to track animals using computer vision. He wanted to develop the algorithm and platform to do just that. Wild Me and Wildbook are the result.
Today, Wild Me uses computer vision algorithms to identify whale sharks based on their unique markings from the photos taken around the world by tour operators, tourists and researchers. Thanks to contributions from citizen scientists, they have spotted more than 8,100 whale sharks since the project began. The success of this database has prompted many other researchers to realize the potential of the citizen science model for their conservation efforts, including projects targeting zebras, humpback whales, ragged-toothed sharks, polar bears, and more. Wild Me has made its Wildbook platform open source so that others can use this non-invasive tracking of species.
To make the Wildbook platform better equipped to scale and handle many more endangered species, Wild Me is partnering with Microsoft and its AI for Earth program. Now that Wild Me and Microsoft have teamed up, they have big ambitions, including expanding the artificial intelligence tools to many more types and launching a tweet bot. Already an intelligent agent tags ‘whale shark’ on YouTube videos at night by using machine learning and natural language processing to read the video description to determine if the video description contains information about the animal.
By 2100, 38 percent of all species will be extinct without action and intervention. Data-driven insights and the processing power brought by the cloud and artificial intelligence can play an important role in understanding the problem and preventing extinction. These efforts are most definitely time sensitive, so any technology that can speed up the efforts is necessary. The great thing about Wild Me and its efforts is the combination of citizen scientists participating to submit the data, images and videos needed to give the machines insights into wildlife conservation. The public also has the opportunity to track their favorite animals and contribute to global conservation efforts.
Wild Me’s innovations have undoubtedly revolutionized animal identification. It is a spectacular example of what can happen when people and machines join forces for the greater good.