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Conversations on Artificial Intelligence: Machine Learning for Conservation

Monday, April 24, 2023
11:00am to 11:45am
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Since the 1950s, scientists and engineers have endeavored to design computers that "think," machines that can make decisions and find patterns in data the same way humans do. In more recent years, through the rise of artificial intelligence, the ability of computers to mimic human thought has become increasingly powerful and prevalent. Today, AI propels discovery across scientific fields, enables researchers to delve into problems previously too complex to solve, and drives much of our digital lives.

But where is the line between what machines can achieve and what remains science fiction? How is that line blurring, and what is the future of artificial intelligence? At Caltech, researchers work at the leading edge of AI to expand its capabilities and examine its impacts on society.

Earth is quickly losing its biodiversity: One million plant and animal species are under threat of extinction, according to the United Nations. To better assess the problem of biodiversity loss and what to do about it, ecologists and field biologists need access to accurate observation data on more species in more parts of the globe. That's where artificial intelligence researchers like Caltech professor Pietro Perona and graduate student Suzanne Stathatos can help.

"It is simply not possible to keep collecting and analyzing data by hand. AI can help scale up from a few chosen spots to the whole planet, process the data faster, and handle data from a more diverse suite of sensors," says Perona, Allen E. Puckett Professor of Electrical Engineering and a leader in the field of computer vision.

In this conversation, Perona and Stathatos will discuss the AI methods they have developed to more effectively monitor species, from salmon to birds to mountain lions. Their data uncovers information about complex ecosystems, human impact on biodiversity, and the effects of climate change on nature. Join the conversation to ask your own questions and discover how you can participate in this work using your smartphone.

Get ready for the event by trying some of these AI tools for yourself: Download the Merlin Bird ID and iNaturalist apps to your smartphone and use them to identify plants and animals in your neighborhood.


This is a free event, but registration is required. The first 500 attendees can join the Zoom webinar. Others will be provided with a YouTube link.

About the Participants

Pietro Perona
Allen E. Puckett Professor of Electrical Engineering
Pietro Perona is a leader in the fields of computer vision and machine learning. His research group currently focuses on visual categorization with applications to ecology and conservation, and on animal behavior with applications to neuroscience. Perona earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and was a postdoctoral scholar at MIT. He is the recipient of the 2013 Longuet-Higgins Prize and the 2010 Koenderink Prize for fundamental contributions in computer vision. Perona is also an Amazon Fellow.

Suzanne Stathatos
Graduate Student, Computing and Mathematical Sciences
Suzanne Stathatos aims to protect the natural world through her studies at Caltech. In the lab of Pietro Perona, she leverages and develops computer vision techniques to enable biodiversity monitoring and solve issues related to the conservation of animals and plants. Prior to Caltech, she held software engineering positions at Amazon and JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA. Stathatos earned her bachelor's in history and master's in computer science at Stanford University.

Robert Perkins
Content and Media Strategist, Caltech's Office of Strategic Communications
Robert Perkins is a content and media strategist and emergency communications coordinator in Caltech's Office of Strategic Communications. He graduated from the University of Kansas and the University of Southern California, and has worked as a news reporter and public relations specialist. Currently, he covers research in the fields of engineering, geology, and planetary science while also working on Caltech's COVID-19 communications efforts.

This series is presented by the Caltech Science Exchange, which brings expert insight to the scientific questions that define our time. The Science Exchange offers trustworthy answers, clear explanations, and fact-driven conversation on critical topics in science and technology.