Saving Elephants from Poaching using AI: Neurala is Doing it

TOPSHOT - A herd of elephants walk in front of Mount Kilimanjaro in Amboseli National Park on November 3, 2016. / AFP / CARL DE SOUZA (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

A centuries-old problem that has affected nearly every region on Earth is about to get a high-tech solution.

Artificial intelligence company Neurala is using machine learning coupled with cameras and drones to put a stop to the poaching crisis in Africa. Focusing on the rhino population (which, for just black rhinos, has dwindled by 97.6 percent since 1960) and African elephants (35,000 of which were killed last year), the company is enhancing the Lindbergh Foundation’s effort to track and predict the paths of both at-risk animals and the poachers who are hunting them.

“We believe that Neurala is the first to have AI software that can identify wildlife and poachers,” Neurala CEO Massimiliano Versace told the Observer. “We have never heard of anybody using AI with cameras and drones to protect wildlife. We have heard of a company using AI to predict the paths that poachers might take, but that is not working directly with the animals.”

Neurala’s AI will assist human analysts by automatically sifting through terabytes of video taken by drones in real time. Using deep learning neural networks, it can track, pinpoint and even predict the paths of animals, vehicles and poachers, learning more and more as time goes on. And because it can look at both visible and infrared light, all movements—whether during the day or at night—can be tracked.

“Neurala software mimics the functions of the human brain for learning and perception,” Versace said. “With enough examples [of photos and videos of animals and poachers], the software learns just like a human does. Once an animal is learned, the software can recognize it.  If a new animal comes around, the Neurala software can learn it incrementally.”

The increase in effectiveness of using AI over just human analysts on their own might be enough to stop poaching in a significant way. Humans, for one, can’t see infrared light, and the data-crunching power of an AI is untouchable by humans. And while the current effort is focused on elephants and rhinos, Versace said this technology could be used to save other animals from poaching as well.

Read the source article at The Observer.