Artificial intelligence (AI) and rewilding are two disruptive forces set to revolutionise their respective sectors: rewilding, the world of conservation; and AI, the world. While these two spheres may seem entirely distinct, AI and rewilding are far more interconnected than it would appear. Not only can they be used in conjunction to improve one another, but—when all is said and done—both AI and rewilding hold that everything works better when humans are simply not involved.
AI promises profits, but rewilding offers value of a different kind
AI is the tech buzzword of the decade and refers to software-based systems that use data inputs to make decisions on their own. A GlobalData tech sentiment poll found that 70% of respondents expect AI to disrupt their industry—so it is clear why the sector is projected to be worth $909bn by 2030.
On the seemingly opposite side of the business world, rewilding is an approach to nature restoration that aims to restore and protect ecosystems, promote biodiversity, and reintroduce native species. Successful examples include the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park (which eventually caused the rivers to change course), and the Knepp project in Sussex, UK. At Knepp, 3,500 acres of land have been returned from intensive agriculture to their original woodland state, and rare animals like Tamworth pigs and white storks are flourishing.
While rewilding does not have the same financial promise as AI, interest in it is increasing rapidly. COP28 will likely feature discussions of rewilding as an approach to fighting climate change.
Despite material discrepancies, AI and rewilding are unexpectedly connected
AI and rewilding can both be implemented to support the development of the other. AI can be used to optimise rewilding strategies. In Zambia’s Kafue National Park, AI is being used to implement a 19km digital fence to stop poachers from entering the park. In the future, AI could be used in a gamified world, where the object will be to save as many species as possible from extinction. After a few rounds, the game’s data can be applied to real-world data and be implemented effectively.
Conversely, committing to rewilding could also help with the development of AI. As more habitats are rewilded, more data will be available for AI systems to learn about how natural processes occur without the influence of humans.
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Rewilding and AI are not only about mutual support but also how they counteract each other
Rewilding involves the regeneration of carbon sinks such as peat bogs, which support efforts towards decarbonisation. This will help to counteract the emissions produced by the massive data centres that the widespread adoption of AI will necessitate. Similarly, there are ethical issues with the way that AI is making the human experience of the internet significantly more stressful—especially on social media. Rewilding will help with this, as restored landscapes and habitats have serious and provable benefits for our health and wellbeing, with doctors even prescribing time in nature.
One criticism of rewilding, however, is that it reduces the land available for traditional agricultural practices, such as growing large monocultural fields of wheat. This has the potential to hamper food security. But, with the help of AI, governments could strategise to maximise food production within a smaller land area, and potentially optimise the food harvested from rewilded lands.
The peak of human development will make humanity obsolete
AI and rewilding are rooted in the same core concept that the best course of action (for efficiency in the workplace or the health of the planet) is for humans to simply butt out.
AI can complete the work of numerous people in a fraction of the time, for a fraction of the cost. Rewilding can support decarbonisation and bring species back from the brink of extinction by reversing millennia of human influence. In both cases, the solutions we have found for humanity’s problems involve our own self-inflicted obsolescence. This is precisely why both AI and rewilding have faced serious pushback from the public. Their simultaneous adoption will signal the end of an era led by humanity, arguably the end of the Anthropocene.