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Underwater AI: Alphabet’s X lab launches new moonshot to protect the ocean- B-AIM PICK SELECTS


Alphabet’s X division, which oversees the company’s emerging research projects, today unveiled a new initiative that aims to harness artificial intelligence to develop more environmentally friendly fish farming methods. The initiative is operating under the name Tidal and has been in incubation for the past three years.



The big-picture objective of Tidal, according to project lead Neil Davé, is to “protect the ocean and preserve its ability to support life and help feed humanity, sustainably.”



Tidal has spent the past three years developing an AI-powered camera system for monitoring fish in aquatic pens. The system can log the eating behaviors of thousands of fish at the same time, while in the background collecting environmental data such as oxygen levels and water temperature. Tidal is looking to gain new insights into farmed fish populations that could help farmers reduce their operations’ environmental impact.



“This kind of information gives farmers the ability to track the health of their fish and make smarter decisions about how to manage the pens — like how much food to put in the pens, which we hope can help reduce both costs and pollution,” Davé explained in a post on the X blog.



Current monitoring methods don’t allow for this level of visibility. Today, fish farmers keep tabs on their pens by pulling out a handful of specimens and manually inspecting them, a process that provides only a keyhole view into pen fish populations with often unreliable data.



Tidal’s long-term ambitions extend beyond reducing the environmental impact of aquaculture. Davé told the Financial Times that the vision is to make fish farming more “compelling from an operational and environmental perspective” to reduce fishing of wild marine life populations.



Tidal has already deployed its AI-powered cameras in Asia and Europe to track species such as salmon. The team is hoping that, over time, the technology it builds could be applied to other areas besides fish farming where there are opportunities to improve the health of marine ecosystems.



Alphabet isn’t the only tech giant applying its AI know-how to studying the ocean. Salesforce.com Inc. is helping to develop a system called SharkEye that uses machine learning to spot great white sharks when they’re swimming near populated coasts and notify authorities. Microsoft Corp., meanwhile, is pursuing a different kind of aquatic research project: The company has deployed an undersea data center that it hopes will pave the way to a more efficient way of operating cloud computing infrastructure.

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