Microsoft has announced a new biodiversity initiative with the aim of collecting environmental data from around the world which will be made available through a Planetary Computer.
The new initiative was revealed by Microsoft President Brad Smith who said that the company will provide its AI for Earth community with access to environmental datasets from around the world. The software giant will also give the community access to a computing platform which it can use to analyze those datasets on.
AI for Earth first launched back in 2017 and the initiative provides AI tools and skills to help solve global environmental challenges. However, the AI for Earth community requires much greater access to data, machine learning tools and the ability to share its work with others.
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Smith provided further details on why Microsoft wants to create a Planetary Computer in a blog post, saying:
“Our community needs a new kind of computing platform – a Planetary Computer, a platform that would provide access to trillions of data points collected by people and by machines in space, in the sky, in and on the ground and in the water. One that would allow users to search by geographic location instead of keyword. Where users could seamlessly go from asking a question about what environments are in their area of interest, to asking where a particular environment exists around the world. A platform that would allow users to provide new kinds of answers to new kinds of questions by providing access to state-of-the-art machine learning tools and the ability to publish new results and predictions as services available to the global community.”
Microsoft also revealed that it will make further investments in specific environmental solution areas such as species identification, land cover mapping and land use optimization.
According to Smith, the company will start by creating a new AI for Earth partnership with the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network. The $1m grant will support projects that strengthen existing efforts to monitor the Earth's biodiversity.
Building a Planetary Computer is no small task which is why Microsoft has expanded its partnership with the geographical information system software maker Esri. The company said that it will make key geospatial datasets available on Azure and accessible through Esri's tools later this year.
Microsoft also wants to provide additional grants to give conservation organizations access to the datasets, compute and other resources.
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