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Software and Data Helping Overhaul Conservation

Today, I gave the keynote address at the World Wildlife Fund’s 2015 Fuller Symposium. This year’s theme, “Wired in the Wild,” explores how software is helping address some of the planet’s greatest challenges. Our future successes in conservation, as in many realms, depend upon scientific inquiry, and so many of the scientific history-making breakthroughs we are seeing increasingly rely on software and data.

From complex modeling of ecosystems to 3D modeling that enables more accurate and complete measurement data, software enables us to learn more and do more. The innovative companies that make up BSA | The Software Alliance understand the importance of preserving our environment and natural resources. They are producing software and data that’s bolstering conservation efforts in truly amazing ways. Here are just a few examples I highlighted in my address:

  • Intel’s “rhino chip” is a credit card-sized Galileo board attached to critically endangered black and white rhinos in Africa. It’s in a “rhino-proof case” ankle collar that has a solar panel to recharge on its own. The animals then get an RFID chip placed in their horn. Anti-poaching teams are contacted if the two pieces are disconnected – to alert people looking to catch poachers before they kill animals.
  • The Mataki Project, with Microsoft Research, has developed an open source, low-cost tracking technology that comes with software tools to analyze the data gathered. Because it’s wireless-enabled, researchers can retrieve data without having to retrieve the device. It’s being used now on migratory seabirds, Bengal tigers, and pygmy sloths.
  • New York’s Lake George, also known as “The Queen of the Lakes,” is a famous body of water at the base of the Adirondack Mountains. The Jefferson Project is a collaboration among IBM, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and The FUND for Lake George. The Project is deploying data to understand the ecology of large lakes, and the impact of human activity. By analyzing data captured from sensors, scientists, policy makers and environmental groups around the globe will be better able to predict how weather, contaminants, invasive species, and other threats may affect a lake’s natural environment.
  • Autodesk made history when its “ReCap” reality capture and 3D scanning software enabled a team of marine scientists to capture entire segments of coral reefs and turn them into highly detailed 3D models. Earlier efforts to accurately measure were limited in that they were two-dimensional, labor intensive, and time consuming. These 3D models now enable accurate measurements and monitoring of valuable reefs. Notably, the research team in Hawaii using this new technology was able to deliver history-making results using little more than ReCap and an underwater digital camera.
  • Ecologists, biologists, and environmental scientists at Microsoft Research and the United Nations Environment Programme have spent three years building the world’s first global ecosystem model. The model couples the key biological processes of all the millions of trillions of organisms on our planet to capture the structure and function of whole ecosystems, looking not just at how they vary across the world, but how can we mitigate or reverse the damages human pressures.

Today’s symposium also marked the launch of, a conservation technology network. This online community is a centralized space for field-based conservationists to connect directly with technology experts to share their challenges and source new ideas for solutions. It’s initiatives like this – putting bright minds together with data and software breakthroughs – that will continue to make all the difference.

Victoria Espinel


Victoria Espinel is a respected authority on the intersection of technology innovation, global markets and public policy. She leads strategic efforts that help shape the technology landscape in 60 countries through work in BSA’s 10 global offices.

Espinel also serves as the President of the BSA Foundation. is an independent and nonpartisan international research organization created to help policymakers and the broader public better understand the impact that software has on our lives, our economy, and our society.

Espinel served for a decade in the White House, for both Republican and Democratic Administrations as President Obama’s advisor on intellectual property and, before that, as the first ever chief US trade negotiator for intellectual property and innovation at USTR. She was also a professor of international trade and intellectual property at the George Mason School of Law.

Espinel is a founding and ongoing co-sponsor of Girls Who Code’s Washington, DC, summer immersion program, which empowers young women to pursue careers in STEM fields. She speaks before audiences around the world to build visibility for the amazing things people can do with software, and encourages businesses, governments, and the public to support a policy environment that will enable even more software breakthroughs.

Espinel chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the Digital Economy and Society. She was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN), the principal advisory group for the US government on international trade. She holds an LLM from the London School of Economics, a JD from Georgetown University Law School, and a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriaespinel.

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