DEAR READERS: The recent clamorous concern over the possibility of artificial intelligence leading to our extinction reflects our innate fear of the revolutionary discoveries and creations we humans have wrought -- beginning with fire! In contrast to this fear, some are seeking ways AI can serve the planet and all its creatures.
For example, AI can help in our conservation efforts and perhaps help prevent animal extinctions. According to a paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, AI is being used to link and analyze disparate datasets, creating an internet of animals (IoA) that scientists can use to detect disease outbreaks and manage endangered species. The IoA is already being used to predict migratory bird patterns via "lights-out" initiatives and to predict the location of whales so shipping vessels don't hit them. Future uses could include monitoring diseases, tracking weather and ensuring animals endangered by climate change find suitable habitat, says co-author Roland Kays of North Carolina State University. (Full story: news.ncsu.edu, May 30)
INDIA'S CHEETAH REINTRODUCTION FAILURE
The future of the world's first intercontinental cheetah-introduction program is under question when news broke that three relocated adult cheetahs, plus three of their cubs, had died within eight months.
Last September, the ambitious Project Cheetah was launched, with great fanfare, with the aim of introducing the South African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus) into Kuno National Park and bolstering the vulnerable species. Critics say the park is too small for the intended number of animals, and that local farmers had not been properly prepared. "The fact that we had multiple [adult] deaths occurring in a short space of time is not unusual in the sense that it's the high-risk period," says veterinarian Adrian Tordiffe, a consultant for the project. However, "I wasn't expecting these cubs to succumb," he says. While a subspecies of cheetah once lived in India, the cats have long been extinct there. (Full story: Nature.com, June 7)
BAFFLING NEW EDUCATION POLICIES IN INDIA
Schoolchildren in India will no longer be taught about evolution, the periodic table of elements, sustainability or pollution, nor about energy sources such as fossil fuels. Chapters on all of these topics have been cut from the textbooks and curricula for students aged 11–18. India's National Council of Educational Research and Training, which is behind the changes, has not yet explained its rationale to teachers and parents. Experts are baffled, and more than 4,500 have signed an appeal to reinstate the axed content. (Full story: Nature.com, May 31)
In my opinion, this action is intended to quell any student unrest and protests while India continues mining and burning coal, plus cutting down trees to burn for cremating the dead.
DEAR DR. FOX: I appreciate your sharing some philosophy in your column when it comes to human nature and how we treat nature, as well as each other. One of my heroes is the Russian Pyotr Kropotkin, who documented the importance of mutual aid between animals -- even of different species -- in contrast with Charles Darwin's view of competition and survival of the fittest. You and your readers may enjoy learning more about him. -- R.E., Washington, D.C.
DEAR R.E.: I appreciate your interest in this area of natural philosophy, exploring the roots of human nature and evolutionary processes of survival. In my view, both Darwin and Kropotkin are half right, as I discuss in this post: drfoxonehealth.com/post/the-importance-of-natural-biodiversity-for-human-health-and-well-being.
I see this essential duality in nature -- predation, competition, mutual aid and symbiosis -- reflected in human nature. Natural ecosystems are in a constant, dynamic state of flux and tension wherein predators, parasites and pathogens help sustain biodiversity and control destructive overpopulation by herbivores and invasive species. For our own survival, and that of our planet, we need to err on the side of empathy and mutual aid. We cannot continue to act as a global infestation, both predatorial and parasitic.
Another great Russian, Leo Tolstoy, declared, "A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral."
Considering our world population is now around 8 billion, we must acknowledge the contribution of animal agriculture to the loss of biodiversity -- mass extinctions of species and ecosystems -- and the climate crisis. While the crisis itself is irreversible, we can slow its momentum, beginning by reducing all carbon emissions.
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky put into words what I have always felt: "Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love."
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