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AI used in E woodii search

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Image: Dr Cinti with E woodii at Kew
Credit: University of Southampton


Thanks to a research project led by the University of Southampton using Artificial Intelligence (AI), the ‘world’s loneliest plant’ may be lonely no more.


The Encephalartos woodii (E woodii), a plant grown and propagated at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, London, is facing a dire situation.


How many E woodii are there?

With only one male in existence, the plant cannot reproduce and is on the brink of extinction. However, there is a glimmer of hope. AI technology is being harnessed to find a female, potentially saving this unique species from disappearing forever.


Dr Laura Cinti, a research fellow at the University of Southampton, is leading this groundbreaking project.


Thousands of acres of the Ngoye Forest in South Africa—where the only known E Woodii was discovered in 1895—are being scoured using drones.


AI technology aids search

AI is analysing this forest imagery using a model built on an image recognition algorithm. Effectively, it has been trained to recognise plant shapes using generated images of plants that have been put into various ecological settings.


So far, they have covered less than 2 per cent of the 10,000 acres, but Dr Cinti remains hopeful that a female partner for the E woodii will be found.


She said, “I was very inspired by the story of the E woodii; it mirrors a classic tale of unrequited love.  I’m hopeful there is a female out there somewhere; after all, there must have been at one time.  It would be amazing to bring this plant so close to extinction back through natural reproduction.”


Do you believe that AI technology is improving the world, or is it a step too far?


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