Way Downstream …(Oct. 31-NOv. 4, 2019)

      On the one hand, artificial intelligence conjures menacing robots and algorithms vacuuming up our personal information.

         But there are positive uses for learned machines, as Chesapeake Bay is about to experience. 

         The Chesapeake Conservancy this week announced that an AI expert is joining the organization, a first for the Annapolis-based group and a rare achievement for any nonprofit.

         Kumar Mainali has worked on climate change and an array of environmental pursuits. He’s even used AI to study animal behavior. The arrangement came together thanks to a grant from the Grayce B. Kerr Fund.

         At the Conservancy, he will take on a project with the goal of identifying land cover surrounding the Bay.

         “Through machine learning, he is teaching the computer to detect a forest, shrub or a tree over a sidewalk or a building at a fine spatial scale and with very high accuracy,” the Conservancy said in a release.

         Mainali also will deploy his skills to assess water quality in the Chesapeake.

         Mainali, a native of Nepal, is a postdoctoral associate in biology at the University of Maryland. Among his projects, he has written algorithms to help water-scarce Colorado get the best results when releasing water from reservoirs.

         He had this to say about working on Chesapeake Bay matters: “I am passionate about working on burning issues of conservation and environment.”