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AI to boost Australia’s biosecurity measures

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) as a means of protecting Australia from some of the world’s harshest pest and diseases is being trialled by scientists, according to a recent report.

Undeniably, it is very expensive to preserve the health of the country’s unique ecosystem with the Federal Government planning on spending more than A$ 300 million on biosecurity measures over the next 5 years.

With AI, the trial at Western Australia’s Murdoch University is saving both time and money.

AI is being used to digitally identify the plants, vertebrates and insects that are suspected of posing a biosecurity threat.

Thousands of man hours can be saved with the use of AI as it can identify biosecurity risks in seconds. Moreover, it could identify things that are not visible to the naked eye.

Similar to how facial recognition works, the process is being applied to other organisms. These organisms can be a rat, gecko or insect.

It has started to identify particular features of different animals and plants that humans would not be able to necessarily pick up as a distinguishing point.

The team spearheading the trial is impressed with how quickly the software has learned the new information.

The system is being challenged with new images of these organisms, and just like a young child, the system learns and gets better at identifying a rat, gecko, or a particular insect as each new step is being put in front of it.

Although there have been discussions globally that are erupting about the possibility of AI threatening human employment, this technology was designed to assist biosecurity specialists instead of replacing them.

It is about giving them a more powerful tool that can speed up and add to their accuracy.

For instance, if it screens 100 images, it will do the triage and come back and say, ‘We actually think there are four images here that need to be looked at by the human expert’.

The human expert, on their part, can spend a lot more time making sure that they get the right answer on the diagnosis.

Barrow Island, a class A nature reserve located 1,200 kilometres north of Perth, is the test site for the AI technology.

In addition, the island is home to the multi-billion dollar Gorgon gas plant being operated by energy giant Chevron, which is behind the funding for this AI trial.

It is possible that AI can be used by biosecurity experts at airport checkpoints and state border crossings.

The aim of the project is to reach the point wherein biosecurity officers at the borders, in the field, or even farmers will be in a position where it could be an app on a phone that allows them to take a good image.

Then in close to real time they will be able to get a response from the system that there is either a good chance this is a pest of concern or not.

AI will remove a lot of the time spent on things that are not an issue.


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