Let’s take a step back for a second.
Imagine a world, 40 000 years ago.
Seems like a long time ago, but mere milliseconds compared to the universe.
As a human in this era, you don’t need to worry about anything. Gone are your phone bills, stock prices, and unread messages.
All you care about is survival — making sure that there’s enough food to feed your (relatively small) tribe for a couple days. Of course, you can’t just go to your grocery store — you have to physically collect everything you consume. Good luck!
Given that the total population is less than 2 million (a laughable number compared to today’s 7.5 billion), that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. There’s plenty of space for everyone to hunt, without invoking much competition or strife.
And then, the agricultural revolution hits — 8 000 years later.
Suddenly, you find yourself on the inside of a fence, ploughing away in the fields for hours on end, trying to grow enough food for an entire community. Now, you don’t need to hunt for food — just wait for harvest season, and you’re all set! But wait — there’s more.
There’s a small catch — you aren’t guaranteed your harvest.
Yeah, you might have put in hours of work in the fields. Yep, you might have some of the best livestock in town. But if a flood comes and wipes out all your crops — it’s game over. Nature doesn’t care about your feelings.
For the next 7 500 years, that’s how life was for most people — plant seeds, take care of plants for 5 months, and (hopefully) a harvest that can feed you and your family. If a plague, natural disaster, or hungry animal species decided to prey on your fields, then you were left eating scraps, putting in even more work into your fields.
At this point, we should ask — did we domesticate crops, or did crops domesticate us? Given what we’ve seen, the latter seems like the more accurate option.
Rhetoric aside, it’s critical to note that quality of life here was pretty low. While we’d found a way to grow our own food, we spent too much time worrying about our future harvests — rather than being able to focus on other endeavors.
That’s why almost everyone was forced to take up farming. We partially changed the environment around us, but the environment arguably benefitted more than the humans.
All that changed in 1760. That’s when a couple British folks came up with the idea of using machines to produce things, instead of doing it by hand. Thanks to this genius idea, the Industrial Revolution was born — and with it, modern history.
Except of course, for one small problem.
Machines could produce more and more products than ever before — but still not enough for most people, maybe just a couple units per hour. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we put a couple thousand of these machines in the same place, running at the same time, generating hundreds of thousands of products?
Enter factories — rooms of machines, allowing humans to mass produce rare goods and make them commodities.
Now, almost no one needed to work on agriculture — people switched to better, blue-and white-collar jobs.
And jobs there were. Factories produced thousands of products per day, yes — but now, we needed people to operate the machines. We needed people to supervise them.
The machines could break down too — so we needed people to fix these machines, people to make the parts, people to supply material for the parts…and I think you can see where this is going.
We went from living in our environment, to completely changing it. Whereas before we just needed food, water and shelter, we now needed dozens of new industries to keep up with rapid production. And with new industries, we needed more services, more space, more people living in cities, more products, and more land.
That’s why the industrial revolution caused one of the biggest mass extinctions on the planet — eliminating more than 692 species.
In fact, by the time the digital revolution came around, we lost another 60% of our existing wildlife.
Let that sink in.
It just so happens that, by accelerating human progress, we ended the progress of hundreds of species. So many, that there might have been species alive 200 years ago that we don’t even know about.
But…how? How did we manage to kill off so many diverse and thriving species of animals in such a short time?
Here’s what happened.
The Mammal Mishap 🐵
Let’s say for a second, that you’re a chipmunk — munching on nuts, peacefully living in the forest. Life is good, and it’s been like that for hundreds of years.
Unfortunately for you, it’s the Industrial Revolution — a troop of workers wanders into your territory, chattering along about how it would just be the perfect place to build a factory (amazing idea).
Hearing that, you’re rightfully terrified — assuming you can understand human dialect.
But regardless of your countless cries, squeaks, and screeches, the entire forest is removed in a couple years. It’s not that the humans don’t care about animals — your survival just wasn’t a priority. Why would humans care if a couple squirrels lost their homes?
While oversimplified, the above example serves as a case study for humanity’s drastic impacts on animal habitats. At this point, the issue has grown exponentially — over 85% of endangered species face habitat loss.
While you might think that habitat loss is a slow process, more habitats are lost than we can fix — around 4 acres of habitat lost per minute.
Meaning, that at least 20 acres of animal habitats have been lost since you started reading — 80 houses worth of land.
The animals living in these habitats just can’t keep up with the rapid pace of human development — we’re building factories, dams, and malls faster than they can relocate. And even relocation is temporary — one day, there’ll be nowhere left for them to go.
A future without animals seems unrealistic and difficult to imagine. Really, it’s going to be a long time before we get to that point…right?
Unfortunately for us, that future is closer than we think.
Estimates from our best scientists suggest that we have another 80 years, before another 50% of all animal and plant life goes extinct. That, is even worse than the industrial revolution — we lost 60% in 250 years, compared to 50% in 1/3rd that time.
Believe it or not, we’re smack in the middle of a sixth mass extinction event.
Except this time, the culprit isn’t an asteroid or volcano.
Do you like being alive?
If you’re a relatively decent human being, by now you’ll want to solve this problem. It makes no sense that the shared inhabitants of the entire planet get killed off — because of one ignorant species.
On the other hand, there are more reasons than just ethics to care about other animals.
To elaborate, I want to ask you this question:
Do you like being alive?
If so, that’s an excellent reason to help protect endangered species.
Not only do they perform useful tasks (like pest control and fertilizing land), they also help control global warming — to you know, prevent the entire planet from descending into an energy crisis. Kind of a big deal.
In fact, certain primates spread seeds and pollen in rainforests, helping regulate the overall ecosystem. This is good, because rainforests directly influence global patterns — a pretty good ally in the fight against global warming
And that isn’t including the fact that a lot of our industries depend on harvesting ecosystems. The device you’re working on might be designed in California — but the parts originate from Peru, Chile, and dozens of other places, clearing out animal habitats as they go.
A truly international company!
Letting these innocent animals die alters the natural ecosystems around them. And not in a small way either.
See, everything in nature is connected — the world’s largest chain of cause and effect. If you break one, important link, the entire chain collapses and chaos ensues. We depend on forest ecosystems for lumber, (some) tundra ecosystems for water, marine ecosystems for anti-erosion + fish supply, desert ecosystems give us salt + mining ores, and dozens more — just to supply our lifestyle.
I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Messing with the animals in these ecosystems damages the ecosystems themselves — many of which we rely on for daily survival. Saying goodbye to animals means saying goodbye to your phone, drinking water, house, and land stability. And that’s not mentioning the massive food chain disruptions that would take place if, you know — 50% of the animal population goes extinct.
We’re heading for both an industrial and ecological disaster of grand proportions — yet most of us don’t realize how dire the situation is. If this problem isn’t solved soon, it will set off a chain of cause and effect — with us at its deadly end.
If the animals die out, humans won’t be far behind.
Why saving the animals isn’t saving the animals.🐄
At this point, you probably want to save our biodiversity— not doing so would condemn millions of species to extinction, and millions of humans to suffering.
Current methods for wildlife preservation mostly revolve around individuals — adopt an animal, raise awareness, buy smarter, etc.
But as you can see, there’s a clear limit to how far this can take us — you can’t adopt a Bengal tiger, local governments have little international power, and everyone will have to buy smart for it to have any effect. It works — but it needs time and mass co-operation.
What then, are the alternatives?
Now, the most prevalent one is that of wildlife preservation — setting aside part of nature purely for animal use, prohibiting humans from using it.
And, it’s worked pretty well — around 10% of Canada’s landmass is reserved for wildlife (8763 protected areas), and another 12% in the United States. All things considered, that’s not bad — but it could be better.
Wildlife preservation in it of itself sounds like a pretty good idea — just bar humans from destroying certain areas, and you’ve solved the habitat crisis!
It seems like there can’t be cons to this idea, but there are — not necessarily with the idea itself, but with its implementation.
Confused? Think about it this way — you’re the head of an NGO responsible for creating a wildlife preservation area for an endangered species. After some research, you find a region densely populated with these animals — and settle on preserving that section of the biome.
Cool! Now that you’ve decided on a location, you actually need to preserve that area. This is much harder than it seems — getting people to co-operate, ensuring government funds to build set area, and then execute on your plan effectively.
It’s here that we encounter the first problem — history.
It might seem irrelevant when it comes to wildlife preservations, but it’s an incredibly overlooked + important aspect of making it work.
See, communities don’t just stay the same — they evolve, constantly being reshaped (like stock prices ☹).
If the residents of a local community agree on creating a conservation area today, that doesn’t mean that their children or grandchildren will hold the same view. In that case, they might even vote to end the conservation effort — basically postponing the problem, rather than solving it.
That’s far from the only issue. The world (unfortunately) isn’t a peaceful place — it’s filled with conflicts and disputes, most of which are local.
Without at least getting to know the history of surrounding communities, hunting + agricultural needs, and local politics, any preservation is doomed to fail.
It’s not just me saying this either — studies have found that preservation groups tend to overlook the importance of past history and actual objectives, easily one of the most important parts of any endeavor. Is your preservation successful after the species population increases to 1500? 2000? 5000? 10000?
You can’t hit a bullseye if you have no target.
And let’s not forget — all of this takes money. That to, from bureaucratic governments, seldom interested in non-profitable ecological preservation. Getting funds once is difficult in itself — getting them repeatedly (after a failed preservation effort) is harder than beating the boss of a video game.
That’s not all — the NGO/company’s reputation takes a hit too, dooming them from future business. It’s a high-risk game — do it right, and your brand rep + government support increases. Do it wrong, and it becomes even harder than before, not to mention disincentivizing other NGOs from doing the same.
Clearly not the best-case odds.
Once again, it seems like human mistakes + ignorance is one of the major reasons behind failed conservation efforts. But, what can we do about it? It’s not like we can ask humans to just stop making mistakes — it’s engraved into our nature.
We need to find a way to minimize our mistakes — to avoid losing millions of dollars, discouraging wildlife preservations, and securing our future.
And that, is where AI comes in.
Opening doors. 🚪
We live in a fantastic age of convenience and technology. — one where machines care about the environment more than humans.
Yep, you read that right. Artificial Intelligence, a field of computer science dedicated to getting machines to learn from past mistakes, just broke into the environmental space.
Really, it’s incredible how many industries its disrupted — from healthcare to human relations, there’s almost no door left unopened.
(Note: I won’t be covering how AI works in depth in this article — here is an article for more info.)
And no, it’s not giant metal machines doing this either — it’s software programs. Simple, fast, and efficient programs that are amazing at taking in data, and outputting predictions. All we need to do is give it the question and the answer, and it’ll find the relationship between them. Looks like AI doesn’t need to study for tests!
In fact, these models have gotten so good that they’re already better than humans. The robots aren’t coming 10 years from now — they’re here, and they’re here to stay, benefiting human progress in the process. Cool, but also scary.
Let’s go back to the problem — wildlife preservations. What does AI have to do with planning wildlife conservation areas?
Well, according to a company called USC, a whole lot. Because they’ve just gotten an AI to plan and protect these areas — better than humans, may I add. We went from barely understanding our surroundings, to modifying them with artificial minds — in the span of 400 years.
And that’s far from the only thing AI can do for animals. By taking in data from past poachers, it can predict where poachers are most likely to appear — and set patrols against them. In fact, AI can even take footprints of endangered species, recognize them, and then trace their location!
Honestly — is there anything that it can’t do? Imagine for a second, a world where this technology was widespread.
Millions endangered animals could be saved from a premature death — protecting countless ecosystems, communities, and ultimately, the entire human species.
Rather than burning government funds, it could put them to work. Instead of condemning preservation efforts to failure, it could ensure that an ever-growing number of them succeed. It would take all aspects of conservation into account, giving good predictions and getting better as more data is collected. Truly — the potential here is boundless.
Is it magic? ✨
But…how does it work? Does it operate on fairy crystals or spells? How can a computer just tell you where to make a conservation area?
Easy there. AI doesn’t operate on some sort of black magic — it’s all statistics.
What our AI does is take in past data. This data doesn’t have to be numbers — it can be literally anything! Images? Sure! Text? Yep. Recordings? No problem! Climate data? Easy as pie!
In our case, the AI takes in historic data — things like poacher hunting patterns, local conflicts, where people usually come to hunt and fish, and the whereabouts of other animals. This input data gets…well, inputted into our AI, where it makes a location prediction.
Now at first, the AI doesn’t know what it’s doing. It’s basically just guessing — trying to make sense of the data, but not finding the correlation between the location and our input. Nope — it tries again, and again, and again, hundreds of thousands of times, making 1% improvements each time.
And at the end? Those improvements accumulate, giving us a pretty incredible model — one that can predict preservation locations with ease without being repeatedly trained!
Truly, a powerful technology.
Now that we’ve figured out how it works, we can start using it! Here’s what the ideal scenario looks like:
1. Get historical, climate, hunting, agricultural, and relations data
2. Input said data to AI
3. Get location + poaching predictions
It sounds amazingly simple, but in theory, this could work. But as you probably know by know, there is a mountain-sized difference between theory and practice.
Let me explain.
Humans aren’t perfect — neither is AI.
It’s amazing and all — but it still makes mistakes. Nothing in our universe is perfect — expecting AI to magically solve our problems is naïve at best.
The first major problem is with data — it doesn’t just take a couple data points to train an AI.
Nope — it takes hundreds of thousands of samples, with numbers going into the millions for larger models. Given that our network could literally determine the fate of dozens of species, we’re going to want to have as much data as possible.
It’s incredibly difficult — but the end result is worth it.
In fact, companies are looking into sharing data with one another to speed up the process. A pretty important step in the right direction.
The second issue is understanding. Trust me on this one — people (especially governments), do not like being told that their money is in the hands of a program.
When humans don’t understand something, they begin to perceive it as inherently negative — we just don’t like unfamiliarity. So, educating sponsors + employees about the inner workings of this technology, is going to be critical to AI’s success.
The point here isn’t to show how amazing AI is (though it’s a revolutionary technology).
It’s to illustrate a problem — a real and consequential issue, that could change the way we live forever. But, not for the better.
Humans have been around for thousands of years — but for the most part, we’ve lived in relative harmony with out surroundings. Our hunting and needs didn’t disturb the environment — they moderated it.
It’s only in recent years that we’ve had the power to truly change our surroundings — tearing down dozens of ecosystems, forests, and habitats to meet our wants and desires.
It’s not all bad — doing so has let us enjoy a quality life almost unknown to our ancient ancestors. For the first time, humans are living longer than ever, able to focus on things other than food + survival.
Humanity is not inherently “evil” — nothing in life is. The issue isn’t that we don’t care, but that we don’t know.
We cannot find and work towards a solution, when we don’t know that the problem exists.
That’s why raising awareness is so critical — to help technologies like this to succeed. To help the people managing these solutions.
To ensure ecological sustainability.
To create a brighter future, rather than wait around for it.
To truly understand the impacts of our actions — no matter how devastating they may be.
The choice is in our hands — each and every one of us. Our actions today, will determine our tomorrow.
It’s up to decide whether we wake up to sunshine — or never-ending storms.