An interview with Pierre Bonnet and Alexis Joly: AI, plant recognition, and biodiversity

As part of our AI in Your Community series, I spoke with Pierre Bonnet, a tropical botanist, and Alexis Joly, a computer scientists who have been working on a project called Pl@ntNet for the past ten years. Pierre and Alexis work together to develop tools that teach people about biodiversity and plant identification while also building a collaborative data set that spans continents.

Pierre Bonnet, Alexis Joly and Jean-François Molino, winners of 2016 La Recherche prize | © Pl@ntNet / Rémi Knaff

Tara Chklovski: Let’s start by having you introduce yourselves and tell me a little bit about your work and the problems that you’re trying to solve.

Pierre Bonnet: I’m Pierre Bonnet, I’m a scientist, mainly working in tropical botany. I work at the CIRAD Institute – we conduct research in tropical regions, which are hotspots for biodiversity. I’ve been working in the field of biodiversity informatics for 12 years now. From my point of view, my purpose is to collaborate with computer scientists to design a new approach to solve problems, like the problem presented by identifying hard-to-identify plants at a large scale.

I have worked with developers on tools for plant identification in tropical Africa and southeast Asia, and for the last ten years or so, I’ve been working with Alexis on the Pl@ntNet project. With Pl@ntNet we’re dedicated to trying to solve the problem of identifying plants at a large scale using images. My field is mainly botany so I collaborate with engineers and computer scientists like Alexis – Alexis has been my main collaborator for ten years now. Alexis?

Alexis Joly: My name is Alexis Joly. I’m a computer scientist and part of a research organization in France, called Inria. I’m a specialist of machine learning and computer vision technologies, and I’ve been applying this research to biodiversity and informatics for more than ten years. As for the Pl@ntNet project, at the beginning it was really a research project, with the idea of building and evaluating the technology, and so we have spent many years improving all these technologies and evaluating them at a large scale with researchers.

For three years we have been funded by an educational initiative called Floris’tic, and we have collaborated with similar associations all over the world to do a lot of activities related to education.

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