Google boils down water data for new UN environment site

Governments are currently reviewing progress on the goals at UN headquarters in New York, where UNEP and Google announced the satellite initiative. (File photo: Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
Updated 17 July 2018
0

Google boils down water data for new UN environment site

  • Improved information could lead to better investment in environmental services as countries try to meet their Sustainable Development Goals
  • Google is using artificial intelligence and cloud computing to process a massive amount of satellite imagery and data

TEPIC, Mexico: Vast quantities of raw satellite imagery and data will be distilled into an online platform showing how water ecosystems have changed, and how countries can manage them to prevent further loss, said Google and the United Nations.
Focussing initially on fresh water ecosystems such as rivers and forests, Google will produce geospatial maps and data for a publicly available platform to be launched in October in partnership with the UN Environment Program (UNEP).
“It’s basically a time slide... you can go back in time, and what is does is show you where water has disappeared,” said Elisabeth Mullin Bernhardt, a program manager at UNEP, on Monday.
“It can show you where water never was and now is there. It can show you where water is seasonal.”
For Africa’s Lake Chad, for example, access to comprehensive data and images showing surrounding land and rivers could help explain why the lake, on which so many depend, is drying up so quickly, said Kenya-based Bernhardt.
Given that most countries share water sources, the information could also be used to encourage neighboring nations to work together on strategies to manage rivers or lakes, she said.
Google is using artificial intelligence and cloud computing to process a massive amount of satellite imagery and data, stretching back over three decades, before it can be analyzed, said Rebecca Moore, director of Google Earth and Earth Engine.
“Much of the world does not have access to good data about the state of their forests, their rivers and lakes and coastal eco-systems and how they’ve been changing over time,” Moore told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
“It’s a critically important time because there are dramatic changes going on, due to climate change and urbanization and a number of factors that are in some cases significantly depleting fresh water supply.”
Improved information could lead to better investment in environmental services as countries try to meet their Sustainable Development Goals, said UNEP.
Agreed at the UN in 2015, the 17 global goals include targets to end poverty and hunger, combat climate change, and provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030.
Governments are currently reviewing progress on the goals at UN headquarters in New York, where UNEP and Google announced the satellite initiative.
While researchers will focus on water ecosystems, the platform could be expanded to include issues such as desertification or plastics in the world’s oceans, said Bernhardt.


WhatsApp to clamp down on ‘sinister’ messages in India

Updated 21 August 2018
0

WhatsApp to clamp down on ‘sinister’ messages in India

NEW DELHI: Facebook-owned WhatsApp assured the Indian government on Tuesday that it would develop tools to combat the problem of fake messages, the country’s information technology minister said.
India has stepped up efforts to crack down on mass message forward after it found that people were using platforms such as WhatsApp to stoke public anger. False messages circulated on WhatsApp have led to a series of mob beatings across the country this year.
WhatsApp chief executive officer Chris Daniels met India’s IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday, assuring the government of a solution.
Prasad told reporters he had asked WhatsApp to develop a detailed mechanism to trace the origin of any such “sinister” messages.
“It does not need rocket science to locate a message,” Prasad said after his meeting, adding that WhatsApp had said it was working with law enforcement agencies to develop its systems.
A Facebook spokeswoman in India did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
India is WhatsApp’s biggest market with more than 200 million users and one where it says people forward more messages, photographs and videos than any other country.
There are also concerns that supporters of political parties could use social media platforms such as WhatsApp to spread false messages in the run-up to India’s national elections in 2019.
Following calls from the government to stem the platform’s misuse, WhatsApp has moved to deter mass message forward and launched an advertising campaign to educate consumers.
In July, WhatsApp said message forward will be limited to five chats at a time, whether among individuals or groups, and said it will remove the quick forward button placed next to media messages.