Technology has made a tremendous difference in the world, in areas as diverse as health and education, and pretty much everything in between.
But is technology the weapon that will ultimately eradicate animal poaching and save various species from eradication? It’s not a silver bullet, but it certainly has potential.
That’s why Vulcan – a company started by the late Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft – has produced a tech platform called EarthRanger to monitor protected wildlife areas by drawing in big data from cameras, animal collars and vehicle sensors. Other platforms such as SMART – a spatial monitoring and reporting tool – have also started to gain traction and operate in similar ways to EarthRanger.
Vulcan is known in the conservation world for sponsoring the Great Elephant Census. The census revealed that there are probably fewer than 400 000 savannah elephants left in the wild across Africa. It also revealed a decline of 8% a year between 2007 and 2014, largely due to poaching, either to supply the illegal ivory trade or the bushmeat trade.
A census is useful because it provides a snapshot in time and highlights the urgency of the problem. Elephants are a keystone species, environmental engineers who play irreplaceable roles in maintaining ecological integrity. They’re also incredibly intelligent. Losing them is not an option. But we need more than occasional snapshots to aid conservation efforts.
New technologies, however – as a step beyond census counting – are merely a tool. Their efficacy ultimately depends on the value to the end user. A sound overarching vision and buy-in from users on the ground is also critical. At present, data collection and analysis practices vary from site to site. Without best-practice standards in this respect, all the cleverly collected data in the world may make little difference.
Drones: a silver bullet?
Drones can provide real-time information on animal movements and numbers in ways that traditional surveys cannot. This enhances platforms like SMART and EarthRanger. Drones are not delayed by heavy forest cover. They also don’t need human comforts: they don’t have to be fed, as field technicians do during aerial surveys, and don’t get tired like pilots do.
Moreover, they can detect snares and, in combination with remote sensors and camera traps, identify potential poaching behaviour. Because they can fly often, they put usable information into the hands of rangers, who can plan patrols more preemptively and effectively. This means that anti-poaching resources can be allocated more efficiently. It also means that experts far removed from day-to-day operations can analyse the data for interesting patterns.
This all sounds good. But, in a 2015 paper, I applied a basic game theory model – a “river-crossing” game – to the problem of elephant conservation. It showed that ivory demand reduction requires more capital allocation if anti-poaching initiatives are to be successful. A World Bank analysis later showed that only a small portion of global funding goes towards this goal. More research is also required to make demand reduction campaigns more effective.
The research is a reminder that demand for illicit wildlife products ultimately drives poaching, and even the best technologies can only go so far in complementing anti-poaching efforts.
A multi-pronged approach
One serious spanner in the faith conservationists place in technology is that it can be equally effectively employed by poaching syndicates. As I pointed out in my paper, if an MI-17 helicopter arrives with poachers firing into a herd with extreme precision (as reportedly happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012) no amount of drone-driven anti-poaching efforts can stop the slaughter.
On a field research trip to the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania in 2017, I interviewed the head of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s programme there, who happened to be running a training programme for park rangers to use new drones. Wisely, the organisation’s roadmap to zero poaching in the Selous recognises that technology is just one among several pillars necessary to achieving significant poaching reduction.
Without the others – including community buy-in, cooperation between various players at different levels, and improved prosecution and conviction outcomes – technology is just a buzzword.
Concerted global efforts to overcome the current challenges associated with anti-poaching technology are crucial for ensuring better results. At the same time, we have to recognise that poaching syndicates also have access to the best technology. If both sides simply become more efficient, we’re still going to lose our wildlife heritage.
For this reason, one cannot overemphasise the importance of effective demand reduction, a more unified approach among range states (countries that have elephant populations), and conservation-driven development from local communities.
Technology can be a valuable arrow in conservation quivers – but alone, it cannot halt the loss of the continent’s elephants. -The Conversation
-Ross Harvey Senior Researcher in Natural Resource Governance (Africa), South African Institute of International Affairs
5 Ways Tech Can Revolutionize Education
Professor Sally Smith, Dean of School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, was in South Africa to share how tech can revolutionize education and what Africa can learn.
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution gaining speed, the nature of work and economic activity is set to dramatically change. One woman is on a mission to prepare the education system for such changes.
Professor Sally Smith, the Dean of School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, traveled from Scotland to South Africa to share her know-how, as one of the speakers at the Future of the Education Summit in Johannesburg.
Hosted by Africa Business News, the summit brought together thought-leaders and professors from all over the world. Smith met FORBES AFRICA a day before the summit to speak about her experiences in the education industry for 26 years:
1.What trends have you picked up in the sector over the years?
In terms of technology, it has been very fast-moving so the big challenge for universities is conducting research and translating that into useful programs for students when they graduate.
In terms of the kind of trends and developments, we have seen huge growth in areas such as creative computing. There have been developments around designing meaningful interactions with computers, and that’s no longer just [limited to] a desktop computer; that will be your mobile phone, it’ll be augmented reality systems, virtual reality systems and other recent trends like cyber security.
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With more of our lives being conducted online, there’s a need to make sure we secure our data security, our identity is secure and businesses as well need to protect themselves. Those have been really interesting ways in which I have seen a big change in recent years.
And the other thing that has changed is there has been a lot of growth in AI. Some of those kinds of machine learning tools are now being put to wider use than ever before by things like self-driving cars. So that’s an area of great interest now to our students and when they graduate to apply these algorithms.
2.What do you think are the challenges in this sector?
One of the things we’ve been disappointed with in much of the western world is how few women are interested in studying computer science and it has been fairly constant at sub-20% of our undergraduate program since I have been in academia. And we have really been unable to make any great inroads into changing that.
3.What differences have you picked up between education in Scotland and South Africa?
Making sure graduates have the right skills to go to work, and part of that is getting work experience and it’s a challenge for all of us to make the case for businesses to take on a student so they can take on relevant work experience before they graduate. Some of the challenges I have seen around are about trying to get those partnerships.
4.How do you see collaborations of universities around the world with the 4th Industrial Revolution?
Yes, I think there are fantastic ways we collaborate over research and a lot of the big funds now are only interested in collaborations where we can draw on the strengths of universities from different countries and I think that the same will be true about teaching.
At the moment, we are competing with each other but if we can put great programs together that draw on the strength of different universities, there’s a future for more collaborative work.
5.How can the private sector help upskill young people?
We’ve introduced a new way in which people can get degree level qualifications in the UK and degree level apprenticeships. Industry will employ someone and they attend university 20% of the time and work towards their degree while they are in work.
So that is a new way to make sure the degree is appropriate for employers and these programs are employer-led so employers are part of designing the program. The other project we have is a digital skills partnership which is where we try and get industry and lecturers to work more closely together on things like developing curriculum.
Banks Are Promoting ‘Female’ Chatbots To Help Customers, Raising Concerns Of Stereotyping
Meet Amy. And also Debbie, Inga, Mia, Erica, Eva and Cora.
These aren’t the members of a new, all-female rock group, but names that several large banks have been giving to their automated digital assistants.
So-called chatbots have become a useful cost-cutting tools for companies with large subscriber bases (think banks, insurance firms and mobile phone operators). As they replace human call-center workers, such bots will help save banks an estimated $7.3 billion in operational costs by 2023, Juniper Research predicts.
But the proliferation of bots with female names raises questions about whether they might also perpetuate gender stereotypes, particularly around the notion of women in the role of assistants. That criticism has already been levelled at Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa and Apple’s Siri.
Now a Forbes analysis of Europe’s 10 biggest banks ranked by assets shows that at least three have deployed chatbots with female names on their websites and apps. HSBC has a chatbot named Amy; Deutsche Bank’s Debbie helps market traders; ING of the Netherlands has Inga, a chatbot that will “respond with empathy” to customer problems such as losing a card.
ING’s other chatbot Marie, available to retail customers on Facebook Messenger, was given the name “because it conjures up an image of someone who is helpful and friendly,” Tim Daniels, a programme manager for ING was quoted as saying on the bank’s website. (ING has a male chatbot named Bill, aimed at dealing with corporate customers.)
Among the other lenders, Santander, Barclays and Societe Generale appear to have unnamed chatbot assistants. Credit Agricole has an internal chatbot with a male name: Hector.
Female chatbots abound in other regions and industries. Bank of America recently deployed a digital assistant called Erica, while Mia, the chatbot released by Australian digital bank UBank, was described by the company earlier this month as “empathetic,” “fun” and “a little bit cheeky.”
IPSoft, a New York-based software company that sells chatbot technology to banks like Sweden’s SEB as well as mobile network giant Vodafone, has its own white-label version of a customer-facing chatbot, named Amelia.
IPSoft’s CEO Chetan Dube denied that the chatbot’s name perpetuated stereotypes, when asked by Forbes during an interview in December, and said it instead highlights “the thought leadership that is represented in females.”
“She was the first female aviator that tried to go around the world,” Dube added, referring to the 1930’s aviator Amelia Earhart.
Forbes revealed earlier this month that Vodafone was measuring the success of its chatbots on how many staff could be replaced by the software. While that may be an uncomfortable metric, the more worrying consequence of chatbots, according to four industry experts questioned by Forbes, is the risk that they could reinforce certain stereotypes.
“Gender bias is an increasingly serious issue in chatbot design, especially for voice-based chatbots,” says John Taylor, CEO of action.ai, a British startup that makes chatbot software for banks and travel companies. “These assistants often perform tasks that many view as menial.”
Vitor Shereiber, a language specialist at the German language-learning app Babbel, says that focus-group testing might lead companies to assign a gender to a chatbot on the notion that it makes customer feel more comfortable.
But, he adds, bots could spread unrealistic expectations of how women should present themselves professionally, just as photoshopped pictures have done for women’s perceptions of their bodies.
Part of the challenge for companies is finding a balance between automating customer service without putting customers off. PwC recently described chatbots as being able to “massively enhance customer delight and loyalty” because of their “personal touch.”
Taylor suggests software designers should try creating more chatbots with male names and male voices.
On the sidelines of a technology conference in London on Wednesday, Seth Juarez, an artificial-intelligence engineer based in Redmond, Washington takes it a step further. He calls Siri up on is iPhone to ask the time, and a male voice responds.
“I make it a guy specifically because I find it morally reprehensible that all of the service-based bots are female, and all the intelligence based bots [like IBM’s Watson] are named after dudes.”
He added that artificial intelligence generally shouldn’t be anthropomorphised. Chatbots should be used to manage “cheap thoughts,” or “stuff that a human would do robotically” rather than on more complex issues. “I would leave those problems to humans.”
-Parmy Olson;Forbes Staff
BMW And Daimler Pool Resources On Automated Driving Technology
Daimler and BMW deepened their alliance on Thursday to share spiraling development costs for highly automated driving technologies, even as each carmaker pursues separate efforts to develop fully self-driving cars.
The enormous cost of designing and building computer-powered vehicles has already prompted Honda to pool its efforts with General Motors, while Volkswagen is pursuing talks with Ford about an alliance on autonomous cars.
BMW and Daimler deepened their alliance for similar reasons, said Michael Hafner, head of automated driving at Mercedes-Benz research and development said in a blog post which accompanied a joint press release by the companies on Thursday.
“We have learned that the development of these systems is a bit like climbing a mountain,” he said.
“Taking the first few meters from the base station to the summit seems easy. But the closer you come to the goal, the thinner the air around you becomes, the more strength is required for each further step, and the more complex become the challenges you have to resolve.”
It made sense to distribute the technological and financial challenges of automated driving, Hafner said, so BMW and Daimler will jointly develop technology to enable automated driving on highways.
“Initially, the focus will be on advancing the development of next-generation technologies for driver assistance systems, automated driving on highways and parking features,” the companies said in the statement.
“In addition, the two partners plan to discuss the possibility of extending their collaboration to cover higher levels of automation, both on highways and in urban areas.”
BMW and Daimler’s move comes as even deep pocketed technology companies struggle to gain traction in autonomous driving. Apple Inc said on Wednesday it planned to lay off 190 employees in its self-driving car program, Project Titan.
The market for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles is expected to grow to $96 billion in 2025 and $290 billion in 2035 from about $3 billion in 2015, according to Goldman Sachs.
BMW and Daimler already cooperate in high-definition mapping with HERE and in the area of procurement, and earlier this month unveiled a joint ride-hailing, parking and electric car charging business.
They said on Thursday their new partnership will center on so-called level 3 and level 4 automated driving technologies, including cars that still require steering wheels and drivers.
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Daimler will pursue a separate development alliance for level 5 robotaxis between its luxury brand Mercedes-Benz and supplier Robert Bosch. Level 5 cars require no driver.
BMW, for its part, continues its development alliance for robotaxis with Israeli autonomous vehicle tech company Mobileye and chip maker Intel, with the aim of putting autonomous cars on the road by 2021. -Reuters
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