AI is learning from our encounters with nature — and that’s a concern

Updated January 01, 2018 12:55:37

Photo: A “Shazam for nature” sounds wonderful, but what are its true implications? (ABC Open contributor merrijignic)

The idea seems wonderful — a phone app that allows you to take a photo of a plant or animal and receive immediate species identification and other information about it.

A “Shazam for nature”, so to speak.

We are building huge repositories of data related to our natural environments, making this idea a reality.

But there are ethical concerns that should be addressed: about how data is collected and shared, who has the right to share it and how we use public data for machine learning.

And there’s a bigger concern — whether such apps change what it means to be human.

Encounters with dandelions

Oliver Sacks, the brilliant neurologist and author, once arranged to take a group of his patients on a field trip to the New York Botanic Garden. One of his patients, a severely autistic young man named Steve, hadn’t stepped outside the facility for years. He never spoke; indeed, the doctors believed him incapable of speech.