Three ways AI can support the Sustainable Development Goals

By GovInsider

Huawei is using AI to diagnose visual impairments in children early, preserve biodiversity and keep food sources sustainable.

Wild Sumatran rhinos were once a common sight in northern Borneo, gamboling through the rainforests, but that ended last month when the last of their number died in a cage. Their habitat was eroded and Malaysia’s rhinos are officially extinct.

The TECH4ALLL programme exists to see how tech and AI can save the homes of creatures like the Sumatran rhinos, and build opportunities for the humans who live alongside them. "We want to protect vulnerable groups and make ordinary people extraordinary,” said Ken Hu, Huawei’s Deputy Chairman, at Huawei Connect 2019.

Huawei created this programme to tie into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is working with partners to protect tropical rainforests, keep food sources sustainable and diagnose visual disorders in children early.

Protecting the rainforests


Rainforest Connection (RFCx) is turning used Huawei mobile phones into solar-powered devices that will monitor the rainforests. The AI function in these phones acts as “ears” of the rainforests to pick up the sounds of trucks and electric saws, which point to illegal logging activities.These “ears” then alert rangers in real time, who can head down to the location to stop the loggers.

“Deforestation contributes more to global warming than transportation, and most of it comes from illegal logging,” said Topher White, founder of RFCx. Huawei’s AI tech has enabled RFCx to improve its system of identifying and stopping unauthorised loggers. RFCx hopes to bring these AI “ears” into 6000 more square kilometers of tropical rainforests across the world.

RFCx is also using AI to monitor endangered species like spider monkeys. The Huawei-powered system detects their calls, follows their behaviour and collects information on their habitat, all so rangers can better understand how to protect them.

Ensuring sustainable food sources

Park rangers at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are documenting observation data from their patrols - the number of birds they spot, for instance - in real time in a big data lake, where it can be analysed to better understand how to protect the animals. AI can even translate birds calls into musical pieces, allowing “people to be connected to the sounds of nature,'' said Lo Sze Ping, Chief Representative and CEO of WWF China.

WWF is also using IoT and blockchain to tackle issues in food provenance and ensure food quality. In Australia, fish are tagged with a QR code and monitored along each leg (or tail) of their journey, from the moment it leaves the water to when it ends up on a plate. All this information is stored on a secure blockchain platform, so consumers can track where the fish they are eating came from.

Tracking the source of the fish means customers have a lot more transparency and suppliers have to be a lot more accountable. With this information, customers can choose to shop sustainably, avoiding fish that are caught illegally and under oppressive labour conditions.

Detecting visual impairment in children

Huawei is using AI to detect visual impairment in children early, particularly in rural areas where there is less medical support. “19 million children in the world have a visual impairment condition, but 70% of them could have normal vision if their condition had been detected early enough,” said Victoria Pueyo, fo-founder of DIVE Medical.

Huawei has launched TrackAI, a visual screening programme that uses AI to identify children with visual impairment. A visual examination device presents children with moving stimuli and tracks their eye gaze. AI then processes this data to determine if the child has abnormal eye gaze, which is often a symptom of more serious visual impairment.

TrackAI allows even untrained individuals to detect visual impairments in children and flag it early for treatment. This could help to prevent or cure visual conditions in young children who may not be able to verbalise their condition, or who may not have access to suitable healthcare services.

New technology brings with it new opportunities. Huawei is looking beyond the scope of economic gain to add value both to society and the environment. In Hu’s words, “technology shouldn't sit in an ivory tower. Instead, it should benefit all humanity.".