AI could be key in saving UK bee population

The World Bee Project is working with Oracle to use artificial intelligence and cloud computing to help combat the dangerous decline in global bee population.

The partnership  will employ the use of “smart hives”, hives that record bee behaviour  in changing conditions. The ambition is to develop “data-driven best practices” to aid keepers in providing the best possible circumstances for the continuation of healthy hives.

For years we’ve been aware of the frightening decline in bee numbers, with scientists claiming a number of human influences as the cause. The World Bee Project lists “intensive agriculture, widespread use of pesticides… pollution… climate change, and the ever-increasing global population” as just some of the causes. Some scientists have even stated mobile phones as a contributing factor. Despite the multitude of opinions on what the cause is, there is a consensus on the consequence: without bees, we’re in trouble.

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The implications of the decline in bee numbers are profound. An incredible 77% of global food supplies, and 87% of the world’s flowering plants, rely on pollination. Meaning both our food levels and our planet’s capacity to process CO2 are intrinsically tied to bee numbers. From a socio-economic perspective, bees also have huge importance. The World Bee Project claims that no fewer than 1.4 billion jobs are linked to pollinators.

However, it’s worth mentioning that action has been taken by the scientific community in the eventuality of bees reaching dangerously low numbers. Scientists in Japan have been developing drones (flying things not noises) which can pollinate plants in the place of bees. Failing that, everyone’s hated cousin of the bee, the wasp, is a fine candidate for the pollinisation of plants, too. So, we aren’t down and out if a solution can’t be found.

Now, though, with Oracle’s cloud technology we finally have a chance of monitoring large quantities of bee data to help contribute to a “scalable, secure, global system.” The smart hives will record how bees respond to various stimuli, such as pollution or changes in temperature, and upload this data to Oracle’s cloud. The data then gets reviewed by experts who will begin initial analysis in order to guide an AI for future identification of patterns, trends and correlations.

From these observations researchers have the chance to narrow down the various suspected causes of bee decline to cause/effect relationships. “With AI and machine learning we can start to put together the signature of health and unhealthy hives,” says Simon Potts, professor of biodiversity at Reading University.

Pott goes on to say that the “holy grail” for the cloud base research would be to “identify early warning indicators of problems”. The potential finding of patterns will invariably prepare farmers and keepers for alleviating hives of any adverse conditions which mightn’t be conducive to the healthy development of bees within them.

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Initially, the smart hives will be used for honey bees, as recent research from the University of California suggests honey bees are the key pollinator for non-crop based plant life on the planet. However, the intention is to expand to numerous species of bee, as each different kind of bee will respond to changing conditions in their own way.

The project to use AI and cloud technology to help curb the decline of bees is in its initial steps, but these are steps in the right direction.

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