Topher White

AI for Conservation

Rainforest Connection (RFCx) is an innovative nonprofit startup at the forefront of conservation technology committed to applying the most effective and timely technology to protect our planet’s precious, ancient forests and wildlife from illegal logging and poaching. RFCx listens to the rainforest remotely, using commonplace mobile tech and existing telecommunications infrastructure, and transforms these audio streams into a profound and automatic understanding of the forest soundscape, rooting out any threats using AI/ML models. RFCx partners with local NGOs and indigenous tribes to deter incursions through real-time threat detection and provides forensic evidence to enable governments to take action to prevent further incursions. They make this data available to academic researchers and government agencies to assist the fields of field ecology and conservation. RFCx is able to cheaply and effectively protect rainforests around the world, with current projects in 11 countries on 5 continents monitoring over 3,000 sq km of rainforest. Conserving rainforests is one of the cheapest and fastest ways to slow climate change today. One acoustic monitoring device, protecting 3 sq km of forest, equates to 15k tons of CO2 sequestered or taking 3,000 cars off the road. RFCx will have expanded into 5 new regions by Spring of 2020. As they work toward a future of plug and play acoustic monitoring devices, they will be able to protect vast expanses of threatened ecosystems even more cheaply. This is needed as soon as possible, as the past solutions of on-ground patrols, camera traps, and satellite imagery are relatively ineffective to protect these large, dense reserves.

We will cover how we build and utilize AI to make it possible to send real-time alerts to protect these ecosystems, focusing on one or two projects to illustrate how it works (and include amazing visuals and audio clips from the rainforest). We will also cover how we are building a Bioacoustics Platform with Google to bring scientists with acoustic data together with data scientists to build out ML models for species being studied. This will ultimately allow for conservation tactics to improve significantly.

Topher White is Founder and CEO of Rainforest Connection. Topher has experience building systems for large and small startups as well as international science projects, including four years working on nuclear fusion at ITER, in France. He has received multiple accolades for his work, including being named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, a Draper-Richards-Kaplan (DRK) Fellow and an “Engineering Hero” by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Topher’s background is primarily in Physics, software development and Communication, having received a degree in Physics at Kenyon College and going on to work for years at SLAC Natl Accelerator Lab (High Energy Physics) and the ITER Organization (Nuclear Fusion) in France. Along the way, he also served as CTO for two startups in San Francisco, where he obtained industry-level experience in software development — the foundation of the Rainforest Connection platform.

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