In Action on Desertification: A Didactic Introduction

In Action on Desertification: A Didactic Introduction

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8401-8.ch007
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Human activities, such as over grazing, have turned grasslands in many places into deserts. New methods in cattle management now allows many of these deserts to be returned to grass. Artificial intelligence is now driving a critical moment in the history of technology. Soon sets of Deep Learning chips will appear both in consumer products and in data centers. This quantum leap in technology will result in AIs that are powerful and cheap, but which use only a little power. This breakthrough will strongly affect the ways humans and machines interact. Our young people need to envision some the ways this transition could happen and to get ready. They need to understand what must be done to keep this expanding technology under human control and how to best use it for the good of society. This chapter's story, “The Matriarch,” looks at an interaction between people, animals, and artificial intelligences.
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Topics For Discussion

The following discussion points come from information covered in this chapter:

  • 1.

    Can the symbiotic relationship between grass and herd animals be used to reverse desertification?

  • 2.

    Could an autonomous vehicle driven by an AI team with human beings to do work in the field?

  • 3.

    Could an AI that has contact with wild animals aid in improving human communication with intelligent animals like elephants?



Can Artificial Intelligences [AIs] really aid in addressing problems caused by climate change?

According to a World Economic Forum report, “Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for the Earth” (AA.VV, 2018), in the last years, there were more than 800 weather and disaster events, triple the number that occurred in 1980. Twenty percent of species currently face extinction, and that number could rise to 50 percent by 2100. AI refers to computer systems that can sense their environment, think, learn, and act in response to what they sense and their learned objectives.

For example, in India, AI has helped farmers get 30 percent higher groundnut yields per hectare by providing information on preparing the land, applying fertilizer, and choosing sowing dates. In Norway, AI helped create a flexible and autonomous electric grid, integrating more renewable energy.

AI for Earth, a Microsoft programme (Microsoft, 2018) has committed $50 million over five years to create and test new applications for AI. Eventually, it will help scale up and commercialize the most promising projects. Columbia University’s Maria Uriarte, a professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, and Tian Zheng, a statistics professor at the Data Science Institute, received a Microsoft grant to study the effects of Hurricane Maria on the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. Uriarte and her colleagues want to know how tropical storms, which may worsen with climate change, will affect the distribution of tree species in Puerto Rico.

Another project, named Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS) from the University of Southern California (USC, 2018), is using machine learning to predict where poaching may occur in the future. Currently, the algorithm analyzes past ranger patrols and poachers’ behavior from crime data; a Microsoft grant will help train it to incorporate real-time data to enable rangers to improve their patrols.

In Washington State, Long Live the Kings (LLTK, 2018) is trying to restore declining steelhead and salmon populations. With a grant from Microsoft, the organization will improve an ecosystem model that gathers data about salmon and steelhead growth, tracks fish and marine mammal movements, and monitors marine conditions. The model will help improve hatchery, harvest, and ecosystem management, and support habitat protection and restoration efforts.

The biologies of both land and sea are filled with symbiosis, where one species lives in mutual corporation with another. When these are broken they can be repaired, but very careful work is needed.

A report presented during the Davos World Economic Forum 2018 (WEF, 2018) highlights more than 80 potential applications of artificial intelligence on an environmental level.

Here are some more possible applications of artificial intelligence that could help save the planet (Vlad et al., 2016; Zahraee et al., 2016).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Artificial Intelligence (AI): The intelligence shown by machines or computer software. An AI in some ways can mimics human intelligence but does not have to match it feature for feature. The interface avatars of these AI are important characters in these stories.

Matriarch: The female leader of a family group of wild animals.

Corporate Person: A series of powers and responsibilities that are given to corporations that allow them many of the rights of a real person.

NGO: Non-governmental organization. The NGO’s in Big Moon Dig Series are major source of funds for efforts to address the great problems of the 21 st century particularly those that effect large numbers of people. The Janet series of AIs were developed to help organize and manage this effort. Their lead financial officer, JanetM, has an interface avatar that is markedly Latina in skin color and dress.

Ground Truth: Measurements made on the ground by instruments that can be regularly calculated. Such measurements provide a means of trusting the data from satellites, which once launched can never be calibrated again.

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