Artificial Intelligence is Saving the Lives of Rhinos and Rangers

Bernard Meyerson, chief innovation officer at IBM, spoke at the Copper Union in New York as part of a panel discussing the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI), ethics and health care.

IBM are major collaborators in the Wildlife Protection Programme – an AI solution that makes use of animal behavioural data to detect human intrusion within a game reserve.

The initial phase of the programme, the Proof of Concept, allowed for the development of a mathematical algorithm that detects where animals deviate from ‘normal’ behavior.

Previous research shows that prey animals behave differently when threatened by predation. By adopting this concept and refining its parameters, the algorithm is designed to correlate erratic animal behaviour to the location of a human intrusion within a game reserve.

Anti-poaching units can make use of this technology to determine points of entry and direction of movement, swiftly reacting to the potential poaching threat and intercepting the intruder before he/she arrives at their target.

François Spruyt, Professor Herbert Prins and Mariana Kruger announced at the MTN Internet of Things Conference and Awards that the solution will increase poacher capture rate from 3% to 86.4% within a 125m radius.

Plans to take the solution further are currently underway. The aim is to test the product at a larger scale, increasing the complexity and accuracy of the algorithm.

“The bottom line is by doing that we were able to spot the poachers when they were nowhere near the preserve, much less on the preserve where the rhinos are. And this avoids the kind of conflict where people ended up dead in large numbers, not just the rhinos….

Basically, the idea is that nobody dies. You don’t want the poachers to die—they are desperate. You don’t want the rhinos to be killed—we lose a species. And of course, the people who are incredibly brave protecting these animals …

it really was an amazing thing to us because at the end of the day it worked. And that’s the kind of thing where, you know, AI used sensibly adds value that no human could possibly have achieved.” – Bernard Meyerson

You can listen to the podcast, or read the full transcript here.