Members of the animal kingdom now have their own social network, thanks to the wonders of artificial intelligence and deep learning, but instead of dating and getting in touch with family and friends, the platform is poised to be a potent tool in saving various species from the threat of extinction.
Dubbed “software to combat extinction,” Wildbook tracks and collects wildlife data straight from the field. Much of its data comes from scraping sites such as Flickr and YouTube, where users post images and videos from their safari, whale watching, and wildlife trips.
What The Wildlife Social Network Is Built For
“The vision is one Wildbook to rule them all,” said University of Illinois-Chicago professor and Wildbook cofounder Tanya Berger-Wolf in a Fast Company report.
Wildbook seeks to be “a common yet customizable platform for collaboration” among wildlife researchers, its website noted, taking advantage of advanced computing tools such as AI and computer vision.
Allowing the curation of Big Data and enabling citizen scientists, this tool lets conservationists monitor animals in their lifetime, glean on population sizes, and even develop a new animal biometrics solution such as pattern matching from photos.
It can now be easier to fill in common gaps in wildlife tracking, such as the animal’s sex and age, location when it was photographed, and even the present weather. Experts can supercharge multi-disciplinary research and conservation efforts.
Wildbook was developed by the nonprofit Wild Me along with research partners at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Princeton University. It was inspired by Wild Me, a project back in 2003 that sought to track whale sharks.
Today there are 12 Wildbooks for 30 species ranging from polar bears to seals, with over 200 pending requests from marine biologists, ecologists, and wildlife specialists.
AI And The Battle Against Extinction
In Wildbook, AI-powered detection scours and labels wildlife in photos. Images are deemed the most accessible, abundant, and affordable source of data, given the massive growth in the use of digital cameras and enhancements in storage and automatic image analysis.
The Portland-based Wild Me is currently operating with a small budget and a couple of developers on board, but it seeks to exploit the benefits of AI to a maximum, as its desired wildlife database will entail a lot more computing power.
One tool it wants to create is an AI agent that can automatically check YouTube every day for videos tagged or titled with keywords such as “whale shark.”
Big Data is now a major force in conservation, incorporating drones as well as motion-sensor cameras in its mission to document birds, marine species, and biodiversity in general.
A July 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences warned that a “sixth mass extinction” is underway. Humans play an integral role here through technology such as AI as well as active steps toward addressing climate change and habitat loss.