Artificial intelligence (AI) is a very powerful tool. There will be millions of ways to use it provided it doesn’t develop to the point where it uses us!
Conrad Young has created an artificial intelligence service called chirrup.ai which can analyse recordings of birdsong and name the birds that made those sounds. This will avoid labour-intensive surveys requiring an ecologist on site.
It’s going to be important because many birds on farmland are suffering and their population numbers are declining because hedges are being replaced by fences, modern combine harvesters are spilling less seed and of course there are the ubiquitous herbicides which kill insects and the wildflowers they feed on. Also, the switch from hay to silage has removed another source of food. Improved field drainage has removed wetland habitats.
Partridges, turtle doves, skylarks and house sparrows are declining in the UK.
Conrad Young wants to do something about it. The way it works is that small recording boxes are placed about a farm and the recordings are then uploaded to the web-based AI program referred to which can produce a list of up to 140 bird species combined with an environmental report.
The software is being tested by Sophie Alexander, 60, who manages a 1200-acre farm in Dorset. She is doing this because her customers are increasingly asking about the environmental impact of what she does. She wants to provide them with the information they demand and I presume inform herself about how her farm impacts wildlife.
Alex Taylor, of the World Wide Fund for Nature, said:
Harnessing the power of technology has the potential to enable farmers to demonstrate impact when it comes to boosting nature.”
Can you analyse birdsong and decide which bird made the sound? Perhaps in the past more children would have been able to do this but nowadays there are less kids with the ability and there are less birds making those songs. I hope that this AI program does some good and helps inform people of the damage that farming can do to wildlife.
My thanks to The Sunday Times for the story.