A year ago, we reported on an IBM effort called Water Watchers, an android app and portal that makes it possible for citizens to report water issues in South Africa. Now, IBM is at it again, harnessing its core competencies in big data and app development to solve social and environmental issues, while educating citizens and earning license to operate in communities worldwide.
The tech-giant, with offices in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, has been charged by the Brazilian government with a tough sustainability problem: monitor and track biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest. The task is no small undertaking, considering there are at least 40,000 varieties of plant species that can be found in the Amazon. And while the project may seem daunting, IBM was able to create a program that was not only effective in cataloging the myriad plant species of the Amazon but also in educating communities on the importance of rainforest sustainability. The project was first piloted in Brazilian schools and with local "citizen scientists," through a platform that allowed users to snap pictures of a plant or tree, upload to an online database and classify samples. IBM added an element of gamification by allowing users to rate and review each sample. The program, now in its third iteration, will use a massive database to help the user identify the specimen in real time via an app. By cataloging massive amounts of plant species data, the Brazilian government will be able to study and trace changes or patterns in Amazonian biodiversity over time.
IBM may be one of the world's largest companies, but the company still understands it can take a village, or even a nation, to solve some of today's complex social and environmental issues. By inviting students and citizens to crowdsource information, IBM achieved massive data compilation and gave communities a new understanding and appreciation of the fragile world in which they live.