An Extinction Problem

We have a serious issue, or rather, because of humanity, other species have a serious issue. Although it is impossible to get an exact figure, scientists estimate that between 150 and 200 species become extinct every 24 hours. And while extinction has been happening since the beginning of life on our little planet, the current rate is nearly 1,000 times the “natural” or “background” rate.

In fact, according to many biologists, this figure is greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs nearly 65 million years ago. But we are trying to change things...and we are using artificial intelligence to do so.

AI To the Rescue

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a team of computer scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) to use game theory against poachers. Using mathematical equations, the model can predict what the poachers will do before they even do it, leading to a more effective patrol system.

Ivory trade. Gavin Shire / United States Fish and Wildlife Service

“In most parks, ranger patrols are poorly planned, reactive rather than pro-active and habitual,” USC Ph.D. in computer science candidate Fei Fang says. “We need to provide actual patrol routes that can be practically followed.”

The artificial intelligence application, called Protection Assistant for Wildlife Sanctuary (PAWS), was developed in 2013 and was tested in Uganda and Malaysia, where there is a desperate need for patrol assistance in protecting wildlife, elephants among them.

The application targets the most threatened areas, but it also randomize routes so they are not predictable. It also learns from experience by analyzing animal traffic, poachers’ most visited sites, and past successful efforts.

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