The age of artificial intelligence: 'Guardians' in Padang send alerts when forests face threats

Rainforest Connection CEO Topher White training a villager on how the system works. The San Francisco-based non-profit organisation has been installing repurposed old phones, equipped with solar panels and a powerful microphone, high up in the trees
Mr White installing a Guardian in the Pasir Talang Timur forest. The device can pick up sounds within a 3km radius. The AI model is built to pick up sounds like those from chainsaws and trucks, and send real-time alerts with coordinates to the communities watching over the forests where the devices are installed.PHOTO: NUR ASYIQIN MOHAMAD SALLEH
Rainforest Connection CEO Topher White training a villager on how the system works. The San Francisco-based non-profit organisation has been installing repurposed old phones, equipped with solar panels and a powerful microphone, high up in the trees
Rainforest Connection CEO Topher White training a villager on how the system works. The San Francisco-based non-profit organisation has been installing repurposed old phones, equipped with solar panels and a powerful microphone, high up in the trees (above). PHOTO: NUR ASYIQIN MOHAMAD SALLEH, COURTESY OF RAINFOREST CONNECTION
Rainforest Connection CEO Topher White training a villager on how the system works. The San Francisco-based non-profit organisation has been installing repurposed old phones, equipped with solar panels and a powerful microphone, high up in the trees
Rainforest Connection CEO Topher White training a villager (above) on how the system works. The San Francisco-based non-profit organisation has been installing repurposed old phones, equipped with solar panels and a powerful microphone, high up in the trees.PHOTO: NUR ASYIQIN MOHAMAD SALLEH, COURTESY OF RAINFOREST CONNECTION

Trekking through a forest in the Indonesian province of West Sumatra eight years ago, engineer Topher White stumbled upon an illegal logger sawing away at a tree.

It was just a five-minute walk from the ranger station, but the guards on duty were none the wiser.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 11, 2019, with the headline ' 'Guardians' send alerts when forests face threats'. Subscribe