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Nintendo plans reboot

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Nintendo has revealed new details about games in its line-up for 2015 and beyond, along with news about major updates to current games and all things amiibo.

Later this year Animal Crossing players will be able to put their home-design skills to the test in the newly announced Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. Meanwhile, a totally new form of amiibo, “amiibo cards”, will also launch later this year, with the first set of cards featuring Animal Crossing characters. By using the first set of amiibo cards in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, players can enjoy a whole new Animal Crossing gameplay experience.

Nintendo also confirmed its commitment to provide premium content updates to players of games already released. A free update available to every Mario Kart 8 owner brings the brand new 200cc racing class to all courses. The fastest class ever in the history of Mario Kart adds a new challenge to the game, even for the most seasoned series veterans. Major add-on content and updates were also announced for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS and StreetPass Mii Plaza.

Nintendo also confirmed release dates for Splatoon and Yoshi’s Woolly World, more on Mario Maker and the next Fire Emblem game. New games announced include BOXBOY!, a charming puzzle-platform game from the creators of Kirby that is available now from Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS, and a new instalment in the chilling and supernatural Project Zero series for Wii U.

To view the announcements made during a Nintendo Direct broadcast, visit www.nintendodirect.nintendo.co.za or check out the Nintendo UK YouTube channel.

Some of the key announcements, as supplied by Nintendo, include:

amiibo

  • amiibo cards: A totally new form of amiibo is coming later this year! The first set of amiibo cards will feature Animal Crossing characters and will be compatible with the new Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer game. The NFC reader/writer accessory for Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 3DS XL and Nintendo 2DS that can read amiibo figures and amiibo cards will also launch at the same time.
  • The next waves of Super Smash Bros. amiibo: In May, two new amiibo in the Super Smash Bros. Collection will launch: Greninja and Jigglypuff. June brings Palutena, Dark Pit, Zero Suit Samus and Ganondorf, and in July Olimar, Dr. Mario and Bowser Jr. will join the amiibo family.
  • Play classic Nintendo games using amiibo: amiibo Touch & Play: Nintendo Classics Highlights is coming in May as a free download from Nintendo eShop for Wii U. With this title, Wii U users can unlock a variety of three-minute gameplay highlights from select NES and Super NES games, simply by tapping an amiibo to the GamePad.
  • Yarn Yoshi amiibo: A new set of Yoshi amiibo figures, made out of a knitted material, will launch alongside Yoshi’s Woolly World. Among other uses, tapping one of these yarn amiibo to the GamePad while playing Yoshi’s Woolly World will make another Yoshi appear, allowing players to control Double Yoshi. The Yarn Yoshi amiibo will be available in three colours: green, pink and light blue.
  • Splatoon amiibo: Launching simultaneously with Splatoon on 29th May are Inkling Girl and Inkling Boy amiibo figures, as well as a special edition including the game and the Inkling Squid amiibo. By tapping one of these amiibo to the GamePad, players in Splatoon can receive special missions to unlock weapons and gear.
  • More Mario Kart 8 Mii racing suits: On 23rd April, a free downloadable update to Mario Kart 8 will add support for nine more amiibo characters: Wario, PAC-MAN, Olimar, Bowser, Sonic, Toad, Villager, Rosalina and Mega Man. Players can tap these amiibo to outfit their Mii characters in Mii racing suits themed to those amiibo characters.

Wii U

  • Mario Maker: Mario Maker launches exclusively for Wii U in September and enables users to easily create their own Mario courses and share them online with people all over the world! Various activities related to the 30th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. are also planned throughout the year.
  • Splatoon: In addition to previously detailed single-player and online “Turf War” modes, action shooter Splatoon will feature a competitive “Ranked Battle” mode, which ranks and matches players based on their wins in 4-on-4 multiplayer games. The game will also feature a “Battle Dojo”. In this mode, players can enjoy local 1-on-1 battles with friends. One player uses the GamePad, while the other plays on the TV screen, competing to see who can pop the most balloons. Splatoon will launch exclusively for Wii U on 29th May.
  • Yoshi’s Woolly World: The lovingly crafted new Wii U game launches on 26th June and overflows with challenges and hidden secrets. In addition to the challenging Classic Mode, Yoshi’s Woolly World adds Mellow Mode, which lets players of all skill levels play as Winged Yoshi. From launch, a bundle comprising a copy of the game and a Green Yarn Yoshi amiibo will also be available.
  • 200cc in Mario Kart 8: For the first time in the Mario Kart series, a 200cc racing class is coming to Mario Kart 8. Even faster than 150cc, the new high-speed class will be applied to all tracks in the game and makes braking an important consideration during a race! The new 200cc class will be offered as a free downloadable update to all Mario Kart 8 players on 23rd April. On this same day, the purchasable Mario Kart 8 DLC Pack 2 – themed after Animal Crossing – featuring three new characters, four new vehicles and eight new tracks will also be released.
  • Nintendo 64 and Nintendo DS games hit Wii U Virtual Console: Releasing at 01:00am today (2nd April), classic Nintendo 64 and Nintendo DS games are coming to Virtual Console on Wii U. Today brings Mario Kart DS and WarioWare Touched! for Nintendo DS and Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong 64 for Nintendo 64. While playing Nintendo DS games, the TV and GamePad combination will provide various options for dual-screen layouts, while all Nintendo 64 games that supported the Rumble Pak will continue rumbling away on the Wii U GamePad. As a special offer, purchase any three of these games before 16th April and receive the fourth one for free on the same Wii U. Games scheduled for future release include Paper Mario for Nintendo 64 and Yoshi’s Island DS for Nintendo DS in May.
  • More downloadable Wii games on Wii U: Adding to the growing list of Wii games available to download from Nintendo eShop on Wii U, critically acclaimed titles Pandora’s Tower and Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies will arrive on 16th April and 30th April respectively. Both games will also be 25% off for one week after their launch.
  • Shin Megami Tensei & Fire Emblem Crossover Project: The role-playing masters at ATLUS are developing a truly modern RPG, where everyday life exists alongside a secret world of fantasy, including characters from the Fire Emblem series.
  • New Project Zero game coming to Europe: Fans who have been clamouring for a chance to play the latest game in the unnerving Project Zero series will have their chance when it launches later this year for Wii U. Players will play as one of three different characters, each with their own storyline as they explore the cursed tourist destination, Mount Hikami. The Wii U GamePad is used as a camera to investigate the environments and soak in the supernatural atmosphere, as well as a means to fend off hostile spirits during quick bursts of chilling action.
  • Affordable Space Adventures: The Wii U GamePad transforms into the cockpit display of a stealth spacecraft in this Wii U exclusive. On a hostile planet, players need to carefully manage all of the ship’s systems to avoid danger and slip by monsters unnoticed. Players can fly solo or work together in local multiplayer as a crew of two or three players, each with their own specific responsibilities. Affordable Space Adventures is available from Nintendo eShop for Wii U from 9th April.
  • Swords & Soldiers 2: Coming exclusively to Nintendo eShop for Wii U on 21st May, this side-scrolling strategy and action game is the sequel to the award-winning WiiWare title. Build structures and create an army to overpower the enemy on a 2D battleground. With touch screen controls it only takes a quick tap to heal your units, cast lightning bolts and unleash meteor strikes!

Nintendo 3DS

  • Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer: This new spin-off title in the Animal Crossing series focuses on the decorating and home-designing aspects of the Animal Crossing games. Animals will ask players to design houses for them, and it’s up to designers-in-the-making to meet the animals’ requests by furnishing and decorating their homes. By scanning a new Animal Crossing series amiibo card to a New Nintendo 3DS system or NFC reader/writer accessory, players can design a room for that specific character on the card and scan additional character cards to invite those characters to visit. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer will launch this autumn.
  • Fire Emblem (working title): For the first time in the series, the main playable character is not only a customisable avatar, but also the main hero or heroine of the game. Players must choose to take one of two major paths, resulting in two different experiences: the “Hoshido” side for a more traditional experience, or the “Nohr” side, which makes the story more complex and the difficulty level more challenging. The new Fire Emblem title will launch for the Nintendo 3DS family of systems in 2016.
  • Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition: This two-games-in-one package releases on 8th May. Puzzle & Dragons Z combines the key elements of a deep and strategic puzzle game, a dungeon-crawling RPG and a monster-collecting adventure. Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition offers the same deep puzzle gameplay, presented in the Super Mario Bros. universe. For players who can’t wait until launch day to play, a free demo for Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition will be coming soon to Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS.
  • Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.: Launching on 15th May, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is a turn-based strategy shooter featuring extensive single-player and multiplayer content. Multiplayer supports both local and online play across various modes such as Death Match – where each turn only lasts 60 seconds, Medal Battle – where teams battle to collect the most medals with limited turns in a limited time, and “A.B.E. Battle” – where players fight using a giant robot inspired by Abraham Lincoln himself. Players will be able to enter tournaments against players from all over the world and even host their own private tournaments.
  • New StreetPass Games: On 16th April, two new StreetPass Mii Plaza games will be available to purchase. In StreetPass Fishing, players visit islands to try to catch more than 150 types of fish and legendary monsters with bait received from Mii characters via StreetPass. In StreetPass Zombies, players receive items based on the hobbies of their Mii Plaza StreetPass characters to defeat a horde of zombies. Fans will also get the option to purchase StreetPass Mii Plaza Premium, which adds features like StreetPass Birthdays and the new VIP Room.
  • BOXBOY!: From the celebrated developer HAL Laboratory, Inc., creators of the Kirby series, comes BOXBOY!. This monochrome platform-puzzle game tasks players with creating, casting and hooking blocks to navigate more than 150 challenging stages. BOXBOY! is available from midnight tonight, releasing exclusively on Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS.
  • Pokémon Rumble World: The latest game in the Pokémon Rumble series is free-to-start (with paid content) and features over 700 Pokémon, all the way from the original Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue to the recent Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire. Pokémon Rumble World will launch on Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS on 8th April.
  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains: Based on the popular anime, Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains features four-player local and online co-op gameplay and leaderboards as players work together to defend the outer walls from the giant Titans. Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains will launch on Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS in May. For some early inspiration, the first two episodes of the Attack on Titan anime series are available for free on Nintendo eShop from 01:00am today, 2nd April, until 1st July.
  • Azure Striker Gunvolt & Mighty Gunvolt: Experience thrilling fast-paced action in these two separate but related titles from acclaimed developer Keiji Inafune. Play as a powerful hero who can control lightning. Blast through stages, conquer intimidating bosses and challenge yourself to set new high scores. Both titles are available from 2nd April on Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS and until 1st July, purchasers of Azure Striker Gunvolt will receive Mighty Gunvolt for free.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS

  • New (AOC) challengers approaching!: The previously announced Mewtwo will join the roster of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS as a downloadable character on 28th April. Players who have purchased and registered both versions of the game by 31st  March will receive free download codes for Mewtwo on 15th April. In addition, fan-favourite character Lucas from MOTHER3, the sequel to EarthBound released only in Japan, is planned to join the all-star Super Smash Bros. cast in June as purchasable DLC. After a software update on 15th April, Super Smash Bros. players can also purchase more costumes for their Mii fighters, including outfits inspired by major game series, such as The Legend of Zelda, Xenoblade Chronicles and Capcom’s Mega Man series.
  • Vote for your own Super Smash Bros. fighter: Starting today, Super Smash Bros. fans can visit http://www.smashbros.com to participate in a “Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot.” Fans can use this ballot to vote for which character they would like to see added to Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U as a playable character.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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5 Ways to get coding

SAP Africa Code Week will return this October to the Cape Town Convention Centre to spread digital literacy across the continent and aim to empower over 600 000 children and youth in the basics of coding.

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Fact: Did you know that by 2020, 80 percent of all jobs will be related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? By then, Africa would also have added 122 million younger people to its workforce, the most of any region in the world. This will provide the continent with the opportunity to be the fastest-growing digital consumer market on the planet, supported by the most youthful population.

To build this educated workforce, children & youth must be provided the opportunity to acquire digital skills from a very young age. This is what led SAP to give birth to Africa Code Week (ACW) and work closely with UNESCO YouthMobile, Google, Governments, educational institutes, schools, businesses, Tech-Hubs, Start-Ups and NPOs to drive sustainable learning impact and make digital skills a core pillar of basic education across Africa. In partnership with SAP these stakeholders are joining forces to power opportunities through digital inclusion in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals- SDGs (#1 – No Poverty, #4 – Quality Education and #5 – Gender Equality) through what Nelson Mandela described as “the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world”: education.

With over 1.8 million youth introduced to coding over the past three years, ACW returns to the continent this year with a core focus on driving increased sustainability of the programme through its Train-the-Teacher sessions and female skills development in support of the #eskills4girls initiative, which was launched to help overcome the gender digital divide and promote education, skills and employment for girls and women in a digital world. In October 2018, ACW will support thousands of free workshops organized for youth aged 8-16 years across 36 African countries.

Computer Coding, Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Machine learning, Virtual Reality; the list of today’s digital skillset is ever-evolving within a fast-paced digital economy. Whether a technophile or technophobe – here’s how you can get involved:

Attend a Live Workshop

Taking place at schools, universities, science centers or community centers, ACW’s free digital workshops address specific age groups regardless of learner levels. Get yourself up to speed with fun learning tools and passionate teachers! Visit the ACW Map to locate a workshop near you.

  • Access a Free Online Course

Learn Coding from Scratch: If you are between 12 and 16 years old and would like to learn computer programming, openSAP is the place to start. This free online course will teach you how to create your own animations and games using the famous Scratch interface, a free programming language designed by the MIT Media Lab to simplify the face of coding for the young generation.

Teaching coding using Scratch: If you would like to learn the skills to teach youth coding using the famous Scratch interface described above, openSAP also has a free course for teachers.

  • Both courses are also available in French on openSAP for teachers and youth in Francophone Africa.

Host a Coding Workshop in Your Community

Why not support the planning and execution of workshops in your own venue community? You can visit the ACW website to download your full partner guide including a checklist of what you’ll need to host a successful coding workshop in your school or community.

Become a Coding Instructor

Use your teaching skills for the greater good and visit the ACW website to see where Train-the-Trainer workshops are taking place in your country. While ACW takes place over a one-week period every year, it is the local capacity building within schools and communities that will ensure sustainable 21st century skills development across the continent.

Become a Corporate Sponsor

ACW relies on a global network of likeminded companies. By becoming a sponsor, your organisation will be able to engage customers, partners and employees as skilled volunteers as part of its own series of workshops and help expand the scope to more African countries. You can reach out to info@africacodeweek.org for further details.

Together We Can Make the World Run Better

“There is so much we can do to empower our youth in the digital age,” says Sunil Geness, Project Lead for Africa Code Week. “ACW creates awareness about the importance of digital skills through creative and interactive learning. It also fosters the rise and growth of a community training culture which supports Government and Education institutions with the integration of coding into existing school curricula.”

He adds that it is not enough to rely on traditional teaching tools to equip our children with the skills they need for the future. “Beyond the activities taking place across the continent, Africa Code Week is also a fast-growing and powerful ecosystem that enables teachers and learners to connect and collaborate with their peers. This sustainable approach is a powerful contributor to realising the potential of Africa’s immense talent pool.”

Feeling inspired? Join SAP and partners; the Cape Town Science Centre, the Camden Education Trust, UNESCO Youth Mobile, Google, The German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and a fast-growing network of over 150 private and public partners on their Africa Code Week mission to bridge the digital skills and gender gap. Simply visit www.africacodeweek.org to find our more.

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How AI can save elephants

Deep in the rainforest in a northern corner of the Republic of Congo, some of the most sophisticated monitoring of animal sounds on earth is taking place. Acoustic sensors are collecting large amounts of data around the clock for the Elephant Listening Project.

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These sensors capture the soundscape in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and adjacent logging areas: chimpanzees, gorillas, forest buffalo, endangered African grey parrots, fruit hitting the ground, blood-sucking insects, chainsaws, engines, human voices, gunshots. But researchers and local land managers who placed them there are listening for one sound in particular — the calls of elusive forest elephants.

Forest elephants are in steep decline; scientists estimate two-thirds of Africa’s population has likely been lost to ivory poaching in recent decades. Africa’s savannah elephants have also declined by 30 percent over a recent seven-year period, primarily because of poaching, according to results released in 2016 from Paul G. Allen’s Great Elephant Census.

But those working to save these species, which are critical to keeping ecosystems in balance and that also draw wildlife tourists, have a powerful new tool at their disposal: artificial intelligence.

Conservation Metrics, a Microsoft AI for Earth grantee based in Santa Cruz, California, uses machine learning to monitor wildlife and evaluate conservation efforts. It is applying its sophisticated algorithms to help the Elephant Listening Project, based at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, distinguish between forest elephant calls and the other sounds in a noisy tropical rainforest. It’s a perfect job for AI — looking for these rare patterns in terabytes of data that would take humans years.

Researchers use the elephant call data to build more accurate and frequent population estimates, track their movements, provide better security and potentially to identify individual animals, which can’t be easily seen from the air.

It is one of many ways biologists, conservation groups and Microsoft data scientists are enlisting artificial intelligence to prevent the illegal killing of elephants across Africa, stop the global trade in their parts and preserve critical habitat. Efforts include using machine learning to detect real-time movement patterns that could alert rangers to poaching and blocking online ads that attempt to sell illegal ivory or elephant parts.

Scientists with the Elephant Listening Project estimate that Africa’s population of forest elephants has dropped from roughly 100,000 animals in 2011 to fewer than 40,000 animals today. But those numbers are largely based on indirect evidence: ivory seizures, signs of poaching and labor-intensive surveys that are too expensive to be done regularly.

The Elephant Listening Project has spent more than three decades researching how elephants use low-frequency rumbling sounds to communicate with one another. More recently, those scientists began to use acoustic sensors at research sites to build population estimates and, ultimately, to track and protect forest elephants across their ranges in Central and West Africa.

If scientists find, for example, that at specific times of year elephants are using clearings in an unprotected logging concession to access scarce minerals or find mates, scientists can work with the loggers to schedule their work to minimize disturbance and reduce conflicts.

But there has been a bottleneck in getting data out of these remote African forests and analyzing information quickly, says Peter Wrege, a senior research associate at Cornell who directs the Elephant Listening Project.

“Right now, when we come out of the field with our data, the managers of these protected areas are asking right away, ‘What have you found? Are there fewer elephants? Is there a crisis we need to address immediately?’ And sometimes it takes me months and months before I can give them an answer,” says Wrege.

Conservation Metrics began collaborating with the Elephant Listening Project in 2017 to help boost that efficiency. Its machine learning algorithms have been able to identify elephant calls more accurately and will hopefully begin to shortcut the need for human review. But the volume of data from the acoustic monitors is taxing the company’s local servers and computational capacity.

Microsoft’s AI for Earth program has given a two-year grant to Conservation Metrics to build a cloud-based workflow in Microsoft Azure for analyzing and processing wildlife metrics. It has also donated Azure computing resources to the Elephant Listening Project to support its data-processing costs for the project. The computational power of Azure will speed processing time dramatically, says Matthew McKown, the CEO of Conservation Metrics. The platform also offers new opportunities for clients to upload and interact with their data directly.

It takes about three weeks for computers to process a few months of sound data from this landscape-scale study, says McKown. Once the Azure migration is complete later this year, that same job may take a single day.

“It’s a huge improvement. We’re really interested in speeding up that loop between having equipment monitoring things out in the field and going through this magic process to convert those signals into information you can send into the field where someone can take action,” says McKown. “Right now, that process can take a really long time.”

‘We’ve only scratched the surface’

Across the continent in East Africa, Jake Wall, a research scientist with Save the Elephants who collaborates with the Mara Elephant Project and other conservation groups, typically has more immediate access to data about the savannah elephants he studies in Kenya and seven other countries. That’s because animals in those populations have been outfitted with GPS tracking collars that transmit location data via satellites and cell networks.

That information is uploaded to the Domain Awareness System (DAS), a real-time data visualization and analysis platform now used in protected areas across Africa. It integrates data from about 15 different sources today, including ranger vehicle and radios, animal trackers, camera traps, drones, weather monitors, field reports, snare locations and satellite imagery. The tool was developed by Paul G. Allen’s Great Elephant Census, another AI for Earth partner that is moving the DAS system and its data onto the Azure cloud, to give managers a real-time dashboard that can inform tactical decisions for interdiction against suspected illegal activity or apparent threats to endangered wildlife.

In some areas, DAS also powers a Save the Elephants tracking app that can alert rangers when an animal has slowed or stopped moving via email or text message. The app can also warn when animals are heading toward human settlements where they might raid a farmer’s crops. Reserve managers or the farmer can then help herd the animals back to safety. From Gabon to Mozambique to the Congo, some 463 animal tracking devices are deployed, of which 358 are on elephants.

In other projects, Microsoft has worked with the Peace Parks Foundation, which combats rhino and other wildlife poaching in South Africa, to create remote sensing systems that can detect and evaluate poaching risks. Microsoft, through a NetHope Azure Showcase grant, is also helping move the open-source SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) Connect to the Azure cloud. It is used in dozens of conservation sites across Africa to improve the effectiveness of wildlife patrols.

AI for Earth has also provided grants to researchers at the USC Center for AI in Society (CAIS) and Carnegie Mellon University, who have created and are continuing to improve Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS). It uses machine learning to create patrol routes based on where poaching activity is most likely to occur. USC CAIS has also created and is continuing to improve the Systematic Poacher Detector, which detects poachers and wildlife in nighttime drone footage, now being used by organizations including Air Shepherd.

Even with advances in radio collar technology, sensors and imagery collection, a lot of additional work is needed to turn that data into scientific insights or actionable intelligence, says Wall.

“I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible,” says Wall. “We’re really excited because the expertise that Microsoft and AI for Earth can bring to the table includes skillsets that field biologists don’t typically have.”

“Machine learning could be applied to seven or eight immediate things that I would love to know more about, whether it’s recognizing individual elephants or picking up on changes in movement behavior or figuring out what’s happening on a landscape level with human expansion and deforestation,” says Wall.

Wall has been collaborating with Dan Morris, a Microsoft researcher working with AI for Earth, on a half dozen project ideas. One examines how to use machine learning to identify streaking behaviors — when elephants run fast and in an unusually straight line — that can be a sign of poaching or other threats.

Morris has also been working to apply machine learning algorithms to camera traps, which are remote field cameras that are triggered by motion and photograph anything that crosses their path. But finding an animal of interest can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

“Sometimes no one has time to look through these images and they end up sitting on a grad student’s shelf somewhere,” says Morris. “The potential for machine learning to rapidly accelerate that progress is huge. Right now there is some really solid work being done by computer scientists in this space, and I would guess that we’re less than a year away from having a tool that biologists can actually use.”

Wall and Morris are also beginning to work on using AI to distinguish between elephants and other animals like buffalo or giraffes in aerial photography. Knowing when and where elephants are coming into contact with other wildlife — and particularly domesticated animals like cattle — can help rangers minimize conflicts with humans and help scientists better understand disease vectors.

These insights can also inform land-management decisions, such as where to lobby for protected areas and where to locate human infrastructure like roads and pipelines. That’s one of the most significant yet least understood threats to elephant survival, says Wall. With access to the right imagery data, AI tools could help begin to keep tabs on, and draw useful insights into, human encroachment into their habitat.

“We’re always focused on poaching and these acute problems, but really it’s the expansion of human settlements and the advancements of roads and railways and pipelines that are going to affect African elephant populations going forward,” says Wall.

‘AI is really the key piece’

Saving elephants isn’t just about stopping poachers where they hunt. Disrupting the global marketplace that rewards them economically is equally important.

Microsoft and other tech companies have joined the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and partners TRAFFIC and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. After observing that trafficking in wildlife parts like elephant ivory, animal skins and live pets had largely moved from physical marketplaces to the internet, they convened companies from across the online landscape to combine forces to stop it.

Along with targeting the illegal trade in elephant products, the coalition partners target criminal transactions such as the sale of tiger cubs for pets and the trade in pangolin scales and illegal coral.

“Previously cybercriminals were able to operate pretty freely on the internet because there wasn’t much risk,” says Giavanna Grein, a wildlife crime program officer at WWF. “But now we’re creating deterrents and consistency across all the different platforms — if every time a criminal creates a new account and puts up a new post, it’s taken down immediately, that’s going to be really frustrating for that criminal.”

The coalition has since worked with search engines like Bing, e-commerce sites and social media companies to adopt strong and consistent policies about what products are prohibited on their platforms. WWF also provides training to help companies recognize and shut down advertisements and customer accounts that traffic in illegal wildlife.

That involves some mix of human detective work and algorithms that search for keywords associated with wildlife trafficking. In September, Microsoft’s AI for Earth team will host an AI-focused workshop for tech companies and academics working to enhance automation to detect illegal wildlife and their products online. The goal is to advance technologies to identify and root out endangered species posts before anyone has a chance to see and purchase them.

“AI is really the key piece in combating wildlife trafficking online. While it’s not the only solution needed, automating the review of posts containing illegal wildlife and their products would drastically increase the barrier to entry for wildlife cybercriminals,” says Grein.

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