What do machine learning and high performance computing have to do with big cats in the wild?
Science has played a crucial role in our understanding of big cats in the wild and in their conservation. When we focus on the aspect of “gaining knowledge” or “learning”, few other approaches have done better than rigorous application of scientific methods. As we all know too well, the scientific method involves careful observation, construction of relevant theories and confronting these theories with data.
In the context of understanding the world of big cats in the wild, the scientific method demands investigators to pose well-defined questions, spend vast amounts of time in the field carefully gathering field data and then spending time behind computers analyzing them before drawing conclusions. Hence there is a vast amount of human learning in the process. So how do tools such as machine learning, parallel and high performance computing contribute to such a seemingly earthy field of wildlife ecology and conservation?
In this talk, focusing on some of my recent ecological research work on tigers, lions and cheetahs, and quantitative methods, I will describe what it takes to make computing approaches (ML, PC and HPC) highly relevant to the field of ecology. I argue, with a potpourri of demonstrable examples, that such computational “tools” are extremely useful only when considered within a broader scientific study and a failure to do so may lead us into spurious conclusions that may prove costly!
Dr. Arjun M. Gopalaswamy is a Visiting Scientist at the Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore Centre and Research Associate at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK. He is an accomplished ecological researcher focusing on large cats and has vast experience in ecological field research as well as with data analysis and computation methods. He has published over 20 scientific papers in international peer-reviewed journals. He completed his Master’s in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from University of Florida, Gainesville and his PhD in Zoology from University of Oxford, UK.