How Google applies AI to social and environmental issues

July 16, 2019 11:45
Rainforest Connection has created a monitoring system that uses old, reconfigured cellphones and leverages on Google's machine learning technology to help stop illegal logging. Photo: RFCx

I was invited to Google's news conference on artificial intelligence in Tokyo last week.

The technology giant said it wants to use AI to solve difficult social and environmental issues such as those pertaining to medicine, disaster prediction, environmental conservation, agriculture, and cultural heritage.

For that purpose, Google has launched a project called AI for Social Good, which is divided into two parts: "Research & Engineering" and "Empowering others to solve big problems".

The Google Health team, for example, has built a machine that uses algorithms to detect certain diseases, such as liver cancer, breast cancer and diabetic retinopathy. The AI vision can be more efficient and accurate in diagnosing these diseases, and as a result, patients can get timely alerts and better treatment.

Live Transcribe is an accessibility app designed to help the deaf and hard of hearing to communicate with others. The app can perform real-time transcription of speech, transforming sound to text on the screen. It supports 70 different languages and recognizes more than 40 different sounds such as a baby crying or a siren wailing.

Nonprofit organization Rainforest Connection, on the other hand, has created a monitoring system that leverages on Google's machine learning technology to help stop illegal logging.

Using old, reconfigured cellphones, the system employs solar power and is placed on trees to pick up the sound of chainsaws. The app uses Google’s technology to differentiate numerous sounds in rainforests.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 15

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Information Technology Federation honorary chairman