UK Foreign Sec BoJo asks tech firms to save endangered species

People are suffering in Amazon... I mean THE Amazon

UK Foreign Secretary and Beano* character wrought in flesh, Boris Johnson, put tech boffins and conservationists in a room together today and asked them to come up with a way of combating illegal wildlife trade.

Representatives from the likes of Google and Amazon were regaled with stories from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and others of the challenges faced by endangered species. Insert your own joke here about politicians.

Johnson hopes the tech sector can help combat problems of poaching and catching illegal products at borders, a trade worth up to £17bn a year globally, as well as identifying animals at risk in the wild.

The meeting, co-chaired by the minister for the Illegal Wildlife Trade Mark Field, is the first in a series of such workshops.

Johnson said: "I've just come back from the Amazon, one of Earth's natural wonders, where both animals and people are suffering at the hands of criminals who are committing horrible wildlife crimes. What I saw has only sharpened my determination to combat the blight of the illegal wildlife trade."

He added: "I'm calling on our finest technological brains to help us in the battle to save some of the world's most endangered species."

Julian David, CEO of techUK, was quick to trot out the panacea du jour, blockchain, which will be rolled out over a large portion of Africa in 2018 in the form of electronic certificates of origin in a proposed Digital Free Trade Area. The use of satellites and drones along with Internet of Things devices to monitor activity is another area with potential to combat crime, he said.

Google previously co-sponsored the ZSL's research into machine learning to spot animals from the many tens of thousands of images generated by camera-trap surveys.

To overcome the training challenges involved, the team at ZSL along with Google's cloud boffins in San Francisco worked with Google's Cloud Auto ML Vision, with a view to letting individuals without specific machine learning expertise devise their own training models.

Curiously, Microsoft, which has expertise of machine learning and image recognition through its Azure cloud, was not present at the meeting. The Register has contacted the UK Government and Microsoft for comment. ®

* Beano – a long-running UK comic for children featuring characters such as Dennis the Menace and Lord Snooty.

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