Microsoft helps protect Amazon rainforest with AI project

Microsoft AI for Good project funds rainforest protection project

Fog rising from the Amazon rainforest

Microsoft has partnered with environmental groups to create an artificial intelligence (AI)-based tool that could help to stop deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. 

The tool, called PrevisIA, uses machine learning to spot possible trends in forest conversion from deforestation. It uses the Azure cloud to ingest and process data about the Amazon environment, ranging from topography to land cover and urban infrastructure. It also includes socioeconomic data. 

The software also includes an AI algorithm to detect legal and illegal roads from European Space Agency satellite imagery of the Amazon. This came from the Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia (Imazon), one of Microsoft's partners on the project. The name translates to the Institute of Man and the Environment of the Amazon. 

The other organization partnering on PrevisIA was the Vale Fund, a nonprofit civil society association established by mining company Vale. 

Public agencies can use the data it produces via a dashboard that will help them to fight deforestation. 

PrevisIA will hopefully protect the rainforest during the dry season by determining its vulnerability to fire, Vale explained. The upside for the mining company is it can use the results of the project as part of the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) initiative, yielding rewards in carbon credits. 

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Deforestation is an ongoing problem for the Amazon, and reached a 12-year high last year, according to Brazilian space agency Inpe. The biodiverse forest lost an area equivalent to a third of Belgium's size in 2020. 

Efforts to protect the Amazon seem to have little support from the Brazilian government under populist president Jair Bolsonaro. It has committed to bulldoze a 94-mile highway through the rain forest's Peruvian border territory. 

The PrevisIA announcement reinforces Microsoft's environmentally friendly messaging. In January 2020, the software giant committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030. It also announced it would create a platform for collecting environmental data to help preserve biodiversity, mirroring other efforts in big tech. The company touted its AI for Good campaign, which allocated part of its $165 million in funding for the Vale and Imazon partnership. 

However, Microsoft's AI for Good campaign doesn't extend to initiatives that contribute significantly to its bottom line. The company continues to sell AI to the US military, despite employee protests. It most recently signed a deal this spring to provide AI-powered HoloLens technology to the US army. 

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