Tech Companies Use Crowd-sourced Science for Socially Responsible Missions
Some new initiatives indicate that social networking and crowd-sourcing can be effective tools in the fight to preserve the planet’s species, with the help of science and technology.
For example, a consortium known as International Barcode of Life (iBOL) invites citizens around the world to gather samples to help universities, natural history museums and research institutes to create a database of species. With the samples, scientists can identify them by sequencing a section of its DNA, known as barcoding.
iBOL is hosting its database on HANA, technology company SAP’s enterprise platform that makes data available in a computer’s memory. The move to HANA will allow researchers and citizen scientists to analyze high volumes of data in the cloud more swiftly, merging their records and carrying out predictive analyses that reveal patterns between species and location. This way, they can get ideas as to how outside factors, such as invasive species and climate change, affect the environment.
SAP is developing an app with the International Barcode of Life that, within a decade, will allow the public to identify species on the spot . The technology is being developed as part of the citizen science biodiversity project but it has the potential to be used in a commercial context. Picture traders equipped with tools that can verify the content of products by identifying a sample on the spot via DNA barcoding. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it will soon become science reality.
IBM is another technology company using its expertise to preserve biodiversity. Its research lab in São Paulo has developed a portal and mobile app to increase knowledge of the biodiversity found in the Amazon forest by allowing anyone to collect data points and identify species. The mobile app, called Mission, allows users to upload photos of a plant species and its components, enter its characteristics (such as color and size), compare it against a catalog photo and classify it. The classification results use a crowd-sourced rating method.
The platform will also allow users to create timeline analysis of a plant or tree. Besides, the team is looking into how to handle monitoring of more mobile species, such as frogs and insects, and has developed Accessible Way, an app allowing citizens to report accessibility problems in the urban environment.
These projects signal that some technology companies are opening up their platforms to citizen science projects with socially responsible missions. In the case of species preservation, technology is essential in the face of the gargantuan challenge that lies ahead. Estimates say the number of species can lie between 10 to 100 million, while one third of them could become extinct by the next century.
Image credit: SAP