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Courtesy of Wildbook

Scientists at Microsoft and conservation groups are beginning to use artificial intelligence to save threatened species, conserve protected lands, and enforce laws against overfishing.

Why it matters: AI, though traditionally associated with private industry, is allowing environmentalists to better protect polar bears, fish, and stream fauna.

Here are three projects in which AI is being used to protect the environment:

Tracking species: University of Illinois computer scientist Tanya Berger-Wolf's Wildbook project uses computer vision to recognize species including the polar bear, count their number, and track their migration, using crowdsourced images or those already compiled by conservationists. Wildbook also improves scientists' understanding of animal behavior.

Protecting the Chesapeake: Microsoft, working with the Chesapeake Conservatory, is leveraging AI to analyze pictures of land surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and creating a "land cover" dataset that is 900 times more detailed than previously possible. This increases scientists understanding of landscape features like trees that grow along streams that feed into the bay. Such fauna are oftentimes the last defense against polluting runoff, and understanding their placement allows conservationists to more efficiently deploy their resources.

Keeping fishermen honest: Regulators typically employ monitors to enforce rules against overfishing or ensnaring protected species in fishing nets. But for the vast majority of fisheries, human observers are too expensive, meaning that just 2% of global fishing operations can be monitored in this way. Now, regulators are using AI-equipped cameras to monitor what is caught, and AI software to analyze that data to make sure than fisherman are observing regulations.

Go deeper

Coronavirus hospitalizations top 100,000 for the first time

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking ProjectHarvard Global Health Institute; Cartogram: Danielle Alberti and Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than 100,000 Americans are now in the hospital with coronavirus infections — a new record, an indication that the pandemic is continuing to get worse and a reminder that the virus is still very dangerous.

Why it matters: Hospitalizations are a way to measure severe illnesses — and severe illnesses are on the rise across the U.S. In some areas, health systems and health care workers are already overwhelmed, and outbreaks are only getting worse.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
25 mins ago - Economy & Business

Our make-believe economy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Federal Reserve and global central banks are remaking the world's economy in an effort to save it, but have created something of a monster.

Why it matters: The Fed-driven economy relies on the creation of trillions of dollars — literally out of thin air — that are used to purchase bonds and push money into a pandemic-ravaged economy that has long been dependent on free cash and is only growing more addicted.

New hope for "smart cities"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's time to polish our gleaming vision of urban environments where internet technology makes everything from finding a parking space to measuring air quality a snap.

Why it matters: The Biden administration's Cabinet appointees are likely to be champions of bold futurism in urban planning — which could mean that smart infrastructure projects, like broadband deployment and digital city services, get fresh funding and momentum.