Explaining how to save the rainforest using AI and blockchain

Adam Stapleton found a glimmer of hope amid the climate crisis and took the opportunity to share that at FameLab.

Theoretical physics graduate Adam Stapleton took second place in Ireland’s recent FameLab science communication competition.

FameLab challenges researchers to explain complex scientific topics in less than three minutes, and Stapleton took inspiration from his work as a PhD researcher in Dublin City University’s ML-Labs, the Science Foundation Ireland centre for research training in machine learning.

Stapleton’s research centres on machine learning for climate, and the issue of the climate crisis took centre stage for his FameLab entry.

His talk focused on how technology can support indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest to save the ‘lungs’ of our planet from devastating fires.

‘I wanted to shed a light on some signs of hope in the conservation efforts in the Amazon’
– ADAM STAPLETON

What inspired you to become a researcher?

I was always a curious kid. Constantly asking questions. The kind of questions that probably had my parents and my teachers glad for the onset of the internet.

For example, no one could ever explain to me how magnets worked. After pestering him perhaps one too many times for a more satisfactory answer, my Leaving Cert physics teacher jokingly suggested that I would need a degree in physics to fully understand. Annoyingly, it turns out that he was right, to a degree.

Fortunately for my broadband provider, my curiosity hasn’t been satiated, even having completed my BSc. I feel extremely fortunate to have been afforded opportunities in education that so few people around the world have access to, so I decided to go into research to make the most of these opportunities and my natural propensities, hopefully for the benefit of society.

What made you want to compete in FameLab?

To be honest it just seemed like good craic. But, on a serious note, it presented a really good opportunity for me to challenge myself and learn more about scientific communication in a very practical way, as well as the chance to connect with a host of passionate people that share the same affinity for the sciences as I do.

How would you summarise your FameLab presentation?

Fires in the Amazon have really caught the attention of the media in the past number of years as the rate of the destruction going on in the vast, breathtaking lungs of our planet has accelerated. I wanted to shed a light on some signs of hope in the conservation efforts in the Amazon, and an example (by the name of Gainforest) of how some incredible emerging technologies – blockchain smart contracts and AI – are being used to help the valiant efforts of conservationists on the ground.

Why did you choose to focus on a technological response to the climate crisis?

We’re at a really critical juncture in the history of our civilisation. Over the course of this century we may either witness and suffer through the consequences of climate change or come together in an incredible, united effort to find the technological, social, economic and political solutions to avert catastrophe.

At the same time, our technological advancement as a species is on the verge of several paradigm shifts at once – AI, quantum computing, the second space race and other developments that are equally likely to change the world as we know it.

I think Gainforest is a wonderful example of how we could tip the balance in the right direction, and how technology can be used for the benefit of humanity in the stewardship of our uniquely wonderful planetary home.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in science communication?

Succinctness.

What common misconception about science would you like to correct?

That there is a strong chance that climate change may not happen in the slow, steady way that many people imagine it. If runaway climate change happens, if elements of the Earth system change in a way that further speeds up the rate of global warming (such as the thawing of the permafrost leading to the release of trapped methane), then our planet may alter much faster, and the change may be irreversible for possibly hundreds to thousands of years.

Sudden, uncontrollable changes are behind countless catastrophes in our history and this could be on a scale like no other. If that isn’t cause for us to act now and act as if our lives depended on it, I don’t know what is.

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