During the AI LA Earth Summit 2021, we were fortunate to hear from ten guest speakers who are making incredible discoveries in their field of expertise during the three conversations: ‘Ecology, Biodiversity, Conservation: Mapping the Land and its Ecosystems using AI’, ‘A Look to Africa for Earth Inspiration’ and ‘A New Era of Agriculture’.
The health of the planet depends on the survival of ecological communities. Geospatial artificial intelligence (AI) and its application is a tool that can be utilized to understand better human interactions with the environment to preserve our ecological communities. For example, AI technology can be used to monitor air quality on a large scale, without requiring a large-scale installation of sensors. Instead of the infrastructure being scaled, it is possible to scale the data to make predictions about the air quality in other regions. By mining spatial data using a limited number of sensors and understanding their spatial properties, we can apply modeling to predict nearby air quality in similar spaces.
We also see great preservation of marine ecosystems in the coast of Myanmar due to geospatial AI. Previously, conservation was a timely process that often did not provide an opportunity for authorities to act quickly enough to avoid ecological catastrophes. Unsustainable fishing practices were discovered after the fact, such as the largest recorded catch of vulnerable rays, which was discovered only once the body parts had already been processed and were drying in the sun. Using geospatial AI, authorities can now track different vessels and data from the oceans to make predictions about whether the vessels may be engaging in behaviors indicative of unsustainable fishing. They can prevent these vessels from continuing those activities and preserve the marine ecosystem.
Having access to the AI does not solve all problems; it needs to be applied in a local context and in a way that is socially, culturally and economically evolved.
“Localizing solution into social context I think it’s one of the crucial element ensuring mass scaling of innovations around the continent.” - Ghislain Irakoze, CEO at Wastezon.
For example, Africa has a population that is estimated to double in the next 30 years to over two and a half billion. However, due to economic and cultural differences, AI advances that have been successful in other countries will need to be adjusted for a local context in Africa.
TRANSPORT CONTEXTUAL CHALLENGES
There are two different types of taxis in Africa: motorbikes and four-wheel cars. Electric pre-made motorbikes that have been integrated into other countries would not be successful in Africa. Motorbikes in Africa are used for multi-person transportation on sealed and unsealed roads. Therefore, electric motorbikes need to be more robust in general, with strong shock absorbers to withstand the cultural differences. Opibus is a company that is innovating electric mobility within the context of Africa, advancing electrified four-wheel cars in Africa. Generally speaking, in some countries of Africa, only vehicles that are 7-10 years old are imported into Africa. Opibus is researching technology to fast-track the transition of fossil fuel burning cars into electric vehicles in Africa. Using a tech pack, Opibus can replace the drivetrain with an electric drivetrain from Switzerland, a battery from China, and software developed in the United States. This retrofitting process allows developing nations in Africa to be on par with AI advances in developed nations.
AI isn’t just modernizing the transport industry; it is also advancing our agricultural industries. From indoor farming to geospatial analysis, innovation in the AgTech sector will play a key role both in addressing climate challenges and ensuring proper access to food in the years to come.
Traditionally agriculture has not been perceived as a profitable or innovative industry; however, an increase in AgTech development is revolutionizing the industry. Improvements in data collection and data access and advances in computing power have enabled AI in agriculture to become more easily accessible.
An Agro-ecological region maps out the relationship between crops, farming systems, various environmental features, and climate. It’s a major area of interest for statistical modelers. Using this analysis, crop modelers understand how climate change will shift optimal growing regions. Studies in the United States have identified that, due to climate change, the optimal growing regions for corn and soybean will shift northward because of increasing temperature and drought conditions.
However, with advanced technology in vertical agriculture, we can avoid the potential climate change ramifications with food access and food sovereignty. Vertical agriculture is climate agnostic; it can create its own bespoke environment, so that food can be grown anywhere where there is energy, water, and people. Localized, vertical agriculture prevents food scarcity by avoiding convoluted supply chains and avoiding food wastage through growing better yields and reducing the loss of produce through transportation (less food miles required). All the while crops that are resilient to pests and diseases, and are climate independent, are created. Along with climate benefits, the consumer can also benefit by bringing farming indoors.
“We can focus on consumer-driven traits such as flavor and nutrition. We don’t have to worry about pest resistance or pathology resistance. Our screening process is very focused on shelf life nutrition quality, and we can optimize our growing environment to ensure consistency.”
- Dr. Sarah Federman, Research Scientist at Plenty.
The future in AI is exciting and promises many different solutions to combat the problems that may arise with climate change. Researchers, innovators, and governments need to urgently share their technology and data with other countries or communities to address this global issue.
To have a meaningful impact, the technologies and their application need to be scaled to reach all the corners of the globe to ensure environmental justice. However, there is a caveat: the scaling of such technology needs to be applied intelligently and contextually by understanding the societal, economic, and cultural landscapes in which it operates.
A Look to Africa for Earth Inspiration
Guest speakers: Ghislain Irakoze, CEO at Wastezon, Andrew Reicher, Adviser and Investment Committee Member at Berkeley Energy, and Talash Huijbers, CEO of Insectipro.
Ecology, Biodiversity, Conservation: Mapping the Land and its Ecosystems using AI
Guest speakers: Dr. Yao-Yi Chiang, Associate Professor (Research) in Spatial Sciences at USC Lily Xu, PhD Candidate at Harvard University, Bonnie Lei, Head of Global Strategic Partnerships - AI for Earth at Microsoft and Guy Bayes, Chief Technology Officer at Vibrant Planet.
A New Era of Agriculture
Guest speakers: Dr. Sarah Federman, Research Scientist at Plenty Liron Brish, Vice President of Product and Sustainability at Deveron, and Dr. Alexis Hoffman, Data Scientist at Jupiter Intelligence.
While technologies such as deep learning are being leveraged to tackle climate change, the carbon footprint of such technologies themselves have come under investigation by companies and researchers. In order to ensure sustainable development going forward, it is crucial that the climate impacts of such technological solutions are equally addressed.