Ecology and AI: A Powerful Combination for the Future
A new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that AI could greatly benefit from insights and principles borrowed from ecology. By combining the strengths of both fields, AI systems could become more powerful, resilient, and socially responsible, while also helping to solve complex global challenges like disease outbreaks, loss of biodiversity, and climate change impacts.
How AI Can Help Ecology
AI is already being used by ecologists to analyze large data sets and make accurate predictions. For example, AI can identify potential viruses that can infect humans and determine which animals are more likely to carry these viruses. However, there are even more possibilities for AI in ecology. AI can synthesize big data and find missing links in complex systems, leading to new discoveries and insights.
Unlike traditional statistical models, AI can incorporate a wide range of data sources, including socio-cultural factors. This ability to capture and analyze different types of data can help ecologists uncover complex relationships and emergent properties that were previously unknown. AI can generate new hypotheses and open up new paths for ecological research.
How Ecology Can Improve AI
Artificial intelligence systems are often fragile and can have disastrous consequences. Ecology offers inspiration for creating more robust and adaptable AI architectures. By studying ecological systems, AI developers can learn how to prevent mode collapse, a common issue in artificial neural networks. Ecological knowledge can also contribute to more flexible and intelligent AI systems that can reason and make connections beyond their training data.
In addition, ecology can shed light on the emergent behaviors observed in large language models. AI-driven models like ChatGPT sometimes generate false information or “hallucinations.” Ecology’s holistic approach to studying complex systems can help reveal the mechanisms behind these behaviors.
Toward Co-Evolution: Collaboration between Ecology and AI
Closer collaboration between ecology and AI could lead to new breakthroughs in both fields. For example, AI advancements in measuring and predicting natural resilience can help us better respond to climate change, while an understanding of ecological resilience can inspire more resilient AI systems. Collaboration also promotes social responsibility by incorporating diverse ways of understanding the world and addressing biases in AI systems.
Building bridges between ecology and AI will require open conversations and shared resources. The convergence of these fields has the potential to revolutionize not only ecological research and AI development but also our ability to thrive in an uncertain future.
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, Cary Institute’s Science Innovation Fund, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Climate and Life Fellowship.