Taxonomists plan to catalogue all of the world’s species in the next 50 years. This NASA-style initiative, set at the Sustain What? Conference held in New York City this week, will require the identification and classification of approximately 10 million new species. To put that in perspective, only 2 million have been catalogued since binomial nomenclature was first invented in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus.
The Internet also allows taxonomists to make use of crowd sourcing. Already, “citizen scientists” around the globe are contributing their knowledge of local flora and fauna to Wikipedia-like databases such as the Encyclopedia of Life and MushroomObserver. Sara Graves, a computer scientist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and her colleagues are developing smart software that can be used to analyze and classify photos of species taken by amateur enthusiasts.
Algorithm Development and Mining (ADaM), as it’s called, was originally built to analyze NASA satellite images. The new version will use pattern recognition to troll through databases of photos of living specimens. “It does extremely fine-grained analysis of slices of images, and if it doesn’t recognize something, like an unusual insect leg, then the experts get involved.” In other words, ADaM will serve as the middleman between trigger-happy citizen scientists and, well, real ones.
The group plans to write a report on the Sustain What? proceedings that will outline the likely costs of their endeavor, as well as stressing its urgency: ““If we’re going to be addressing biodiversity and conservation, we need to be aware of what’s out there,” said Graves.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.