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AI Forum

Environmental AI for a greener Aotearoa

The AI Forum plans to publish a report on the current and potential uses of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for understanding the health of the environment and its component systems within Aotearoa. AI has incredible potential to help us understand and conserve our natural environment—one of New Zealand’s unique and important taonga, as well as a major driver of employment, tourism, and exports.

The report will describe how AI can be used to increase the understanding of, and assist with the development of solutions to many of the environmental challenges facing Aotearoa New Zealand. We hope to bring greater visibility to existing and potential uses of AI for the environment and identify where New Zealand could be world-leading in this domain. The proposed report will review areas where AI can help with the most pressing environmental challenges facing us and where there is potential for innovation and investment.

The potential of environmental AI is significant for both the protection and preservation of Aotearoa. It could present opportunities that no other technology has to date! It is important to bring critical awareness and visibility to this highly promising field, while demonstrating the potential of AI to face our environmental challenges and create a more sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand. If you or your organisation works in the following areas, we would very much like to hear from you:

  • Loss of native biodiversity
  • Changes in land use
  • Pollution from our activities
  • How we use our freshwater and marine resources
  • Climate change 
  • AI for monitoring land use, forestry, waterways, ecosystems and urban development
  • AI in applying machine learning to understanding historical environmental data
  • AI for modelling real-time environmental data such as fishing catch or weather alerts
  • AI as a component of intelligent decision-making support systems.

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Essential reading!
The AI Playbook produced by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), and the World Economic Forum (WEF) has been released and is a must read! For the last two years, the Government has been a co-sponsor for an AI project with the WEF’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution on how government and society can come together to address the challenge of regulating AI. The cornerstone of this work has been the development of a Playbook for businesses and governments on how to engage in large scale conversations with communities about AI.

The Playbook is a key part of the work that the Government has underway in building trust, through the Digital Strategy for Aotearoa, and in helping raise awareness and guide New Zealand’s own AI journey, through the AI Strategy for Aotearoa (part of the Digital Technologies Industry Transformation Plan). By providing a framework and guidance on how to run a national, widespread conversation with all stakeholders, and seeking social licence and building trust in the process, we hope a clear focus of the conversation will be to gain the input of those whose voices are often not heard. These voices are most likely to be impacted by the future use of AI systems.

Working with a range of stakeholders, the Playbook has collated experience and knowledge from industry, government, academia and civil society. This has been paired with tools, approaches and best practices that have been trialed around the world. The Playbook is aimed at being a user friendly tool for those who wish to begin conversations on AI and I highly recommend it. View the AI Playbook here.

In other AI news, we are very proud that Megan Tapsell, our Chair, has taken the role of Co-chair for the 2nd Women in AI Awards for Australia and New Zealand. Our executive council members Masha Mohaghegh joins the advisory panel and Michael Whitbrok joins the judging panel. Applications open on the 11 August, so please nominate the wonderful women working in AI across Aotearoa.

Meanwhile, Dabus has been awarded a patent which marks the first ever AI inventor to receive intellectual property protection. This is a significant milestone in the field of AI and after a lengthy legal battle by Professor Ryan Abbott to recognise the capability for AI to create or invent. This will most likely set precedent for some interesting shifts in patent applications.

British AI titan DeepMind has released their database containing nearly all human protein structures from its AlphaFold program. DeepMind has essentially solved a 50 year old problem by presenting AlphaFold to solve problems such as the protein misfolding associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease.

“AlphaFold is a once-in-a-generation advance, predicting protein structures with incredible speed and precision.

This leap forward demonstrates how computational methods are poised to transform research in biology and hold much promise for accelerating the drug discovery process,” says Arthur D. Levinson, Founder and CEO of Calico.

Thanks to AI, AlphaFold can predict approximately 95 percent of the time, the shape or structure of nearly all 20,000 proteins expressed by humans. What is most significant is that DeepMind is now releasing its database for free, for any researchers to use for the betterment of humankind!

“This will be one of the most important datasets since the mapping of the Human Genome,” said Ewan Birney, Deputy Director-General of EMBL and Director of EMBL-EBI.

Also, speech loss happens more than we realise and is a debilitating and devastating consequence of disease or incident.  Researchers have successfully developed a speech neuroprosthesis that has enabled a man with severe paralysis to communicate, translating signals from his brain to the vocal tract directly into words that appear as text on a screen.

Neural network models have helped translate neural activity associated with controlling vocal control into patterns of intended speech.

“This is an important technological milestone for a person who cannot communicate naturally and it demonstrates the potential for this approach to give a voice to people with severe paralysis and speech loss,” says David Moses, one of the authors of the study.”

Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua.


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AI Forum The AI Forum brings together New Zealand’s artificial intelligence community, working together to harness the power of AI technologies to enable a prosperous, inclusive and thriving future New Zealand.