Skip to main content

Social media is flooded with illegal wildlife trade but A.I. can help

Alberto Ghizzi Panizza/Getty Images
Alberto Ghizzi Panizza/Getty Images

In the fight against poachers and illegal trade, animals can use all the help they can get. Thanks to researchers at the University of Helsinki’s Digital Geography Lab, wildlife may find that aid through a popular tool traffickers use to deal their illegal wares — social media.

“With an estimated two and a half billion users, easy access has turned social media into an important venue for illegal wildlife trade,” Enrico Di Minin, a conservation scientist working on the project, told Digital Trends. “Wildlife dealers active on social media release photos and information about wildlife products to attract and interact with potential customers, while also informing their existing network of contacts about available products. Currently, the lack of tools for efficient monitoring of high volume social media data limits the capability of law enforcement agencies to curb illegal wildlife trade. We plan to develop and use methods from artificial intelligence to efficiently monitor illegal wildlife trade on social media.”

Related Videos

Di Minin and his colleagues are designing a system that they hope will be able to comb through social media posts to identify images, metadata, and phrases associated with illegal wildlife trade, be it products or animals themselves. The task is too big for humans to do alone so they are enlisting software, including image recognition and natural language processing (NLP) algorithms, to filter through all the noise and spot suspicious activity.

“Illegal wildlife trade is booming online, in particular on social media,” Di Minin said. “However, big data derived from social media requires filtering out information irrelevant to illegal wildlife trade. Without automating the process with methods from artificial intelligence, filtering high-volume content for relevant information demands excessive time and resources. As time is running out for many targeted species, algorithms from artificial intelligence provide an innovative way to efficiently monitor the illegal wildlife trade on social media.”

As an example, Di Minin said image-recognition software can be trained to detect specific products, such as a rhinoceros horn or an elephant tusk, while metadata can give clues to an image’s location. Audio-video cues, such a particular bird call, can signal illegal pet trade while NLP algorithms can differentiate between a post that features an animal for sale or in the wild. “Potentially, such algorithms can also identify code words that illegal smugglers use in place of the real names … by processing verbal, visual and audio-visual content simultaneously,” Di Minin said.

A.I. may help spot illegal trade but it can’t alone stop it. For that Di Minin encourages social media platforms to actively crack down on sellers. He admits there is a risk that these dealers will move to other platforms but stressed that partnerships between companies, scientists, and law enforcement are key.

Editors' Recommendations

A.I. teaching assistants could help fill the gaps created by virtual classrooms
AI in education kid with robot

There didn’t seem to be anything strange about the new teaching assistant, Jill Watson, who messaged students about assignments and due dates in professor Ashok Goel’s artificial intelligence class at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her responses were brief but informative, and it wasn’t until the semester ended that the students learned Jill wasn’t actually a “she” at all, let alone a human being. Jill was a chatbot, built by Goel to help lighten the load on his eight other human TAs.

"We thought that if an A.I. TA would automatically answer routine questions that typically have crisp answers, then the (human) teaching staff could engage the students on the more open-ended questions," Goel told Digital Trends. "It is only later that we became motivated by the goal of building human-like A.I. TAs so that the students cannot easily tell the difference between human and A.I. TAs. Now we are interested in building A.I. TAs that enhance student engagement, retention, performance, and learning."

Read more
New ‘A.I. lawyer’ analyzes your emails to find moneysaving loopholes
Joshua Browder parking ticket legal robot

Email systems have gotten smarter. Whether it’s filtering out spam, prioritizing the messages we need to respond to, reminding us when we’ve forgotten to include a mentioned attachment, or suggesting appropriate responses, 2020 email has come a long way from the basic inboxes of yesteryear. But there’s still further they can go -- and Joshua Browder, the creator of the robot lawyer service DoNotPay, believes he’s come up with a way to make email even more user-friendly. (Hint: It involves saving people money.)

Browder, for those unfamiliar with him, is the legal tech genius who has been creating automated legal bots for the past several years. Whether it’s helping appeal parking fines (where the original DoNotPay name came from) or aiding people in gaining unemployment benefits, he’s focused on one consumer rights area after the other to disrupt through automation.

Read more
GTC 2020 roundup: Nvidia’s virtual world for robots, A.I. video calls
Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang with a few Nvidia graphics cards.

"The age of A.I. has begun," Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang declared at this year's GTC. At its GPU Technology Conference this year, Nvidia showcased its innovation to further A.I., noting how the technology could help solve the world's problems 10 times better and faster.

While Nvidia is most well-known for its graphics cards -- and more recently associated with real-time ray tracing -- the company is also driving the behind-the-scenes innovation that brings artificial intelligence into our daily lives, from warehouse robots that pack our shipping orders, to self-driving cars and natural language bots that deliver news, search, and information with little latency or delay.

Read more