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Chinese Researchers Develop AI-aided Tech for Snow Leopard Protection

China has announced its ambition to become the world leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI) by 2030. China appears to be making rapid progress, and central and local government spending on AI in China is estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

The nation’s approach to AI development and implementation is fast-paced and pragmatic, oriented towards finding applications that can help solve real-world problems. Rapid progress is being made in the field of healthcare, for example, as China grapples with providing easy access to affordable and high-quality services for its ageing population. Its AI development reveals the importance of local government in implementing innovation policy. Municipal and provincial governments across China are establishing cross-sector partnerships with research institutions and tech companies to create local AI innovation ecosystems and drive rapid research and development.

Recently, Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been extensively applied in a national park in northwest China to track snow leopards inhabiting the region. The AI-aided digital toolbox can automatically distinguish the species in the Qilian Mountains National Park, Gansu Province, from other wildlife, using images captured by infrared cameras. The technology can thus improve data processing efficiency.

Located at around 3,500 meters above sea level, the Qilian Mountains with vast stretches of bare rocks protruding from the grass provide a favourable hideaway shelter for the snow leopards. Though more than 200 cameras have been installed in the region, sorting out relevant information had not been easy for researchers.

For conducting further studies on the population, distribution and activities of the snow leopards, a flagship species in the region, the cameras would capture hundreds of thousands of video clips and photos every quarter. Even a slight movement in the environment, such as a mild breeze blowing over the grass, can activate the cameras. Sometimes, curious wildlife bumps into the device triggering the shutter, and the cameras take pictures of mere clouds.

The information of species that appeared on the images also required human input, so it often took them several weeks to complete such tasks. The engineering team has independently developed a species recognition algorithm by means of transfer learning and automatic data augmentation. Thanks to AI technologies, researchers in the Qilian Mountains National Park no longer need to take much time in search of leopards hiding out in the wild.

The forest rangers can now locate a snow leopard from 1,000 pictures in just about 20 minutes, tremendously faster than before. Snow leopards are under China’s highest national-level protection and are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

By combining data monitoring with field investigation will help researchers accurately identify the wild species so as to draw up a more specific plan for their protection. The director of the project hopes that the digital toolbox can be used in more countries.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, China welcomes a global perspective on ensuring ethical standards take hold in the booming Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry. As AI is increasingly seen as a significant source of productivity and opportunities, the discomfort or even pessimism regarding this technology cannot be neglected. The stronger AI’s abilities, the greater the responsibility that people will have.

In light of this, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology published a code of ethics that aims to regulate existing or developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) models. The guidelines of the Chinese guide prioritise the ‘full power of decision’ of humans over machines.

The guidelines state that humans should have full decision-making power, and have the right to choose whether to accept AI services, exit an interaction with an AI system or discontinue its operation at any time. The goal is to “make sure that artificial intelligence is always under the control of humans.

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