How Buster Franken educates AI-engineers to solve humanity’s biggest challenges

Founder of FruitPunch AI, Buster Franken, educates people with no experience in artificial intelligence to take on humanity’s biggest challenges and solves these with AI. These so called ‘AI for Good projects’ tackle problems like world hunger, the hunt on animals in South-Africa and the decline of coral reefs worldwide.

There are many different definitions of artificial intelligence. What is AI according to you?

Artificial intelligence consists of the creation of intelligence by humans. I think we’ve already done that, and we’re going to do even better. The definition of AI in the industry is just the constantly shifting thing that’s just in the future, in the field of machine learning science. AI is exactly what it says, the man-made pursuit of intelligence creation. That is also something we consistently succeed in.”

“All the technologies and models you see now are all part of something that would ultimately be artificial general intelligence. They’re all intelligent in their way, and when you put all of those things together and add some sort of a deeper enforcement learning agent at the core, you get what you would call actual consciousness.”

What is FruitPunch AI?

“Fruitpunch AI is a global community of AI engineers working together to solve humanity’s greatest challenges with AI. The main way we do that is by bringing these AI engineers together and tackling a problem like tracking poachers with autonomous drones and thermal cameras, detecting forest fires using satellite imagery, and automating the detection of COVID-19 in medical centres. Those are the challenges we tackle with the community. We also train people in the application of AI, and through these challenges, these people learn how best to apply AI in practice.”

“The people who are trained have 0 experience or are already experienced. There is always room for junior and senior people. We see that quite a few students participate, about 40%. Then there is another group that is training itself, which are mainly professionals who are making a switch. And then we also have a group of people who want to have a positive impact with their skills, i.e., people who already work for consultancy companies and who work a lot with programs such as Excel but want to learn something new.”

What is your revenue model?

“I originally set it up as a non-profit, so my goal was to provide quality education for free to anyone who wants to learn more about AI and its application. A year ago, I started converting the structure. In the run-up to that, I started thinking about a model that would allow us to maintain those principles, but at the same time help our members and solve a problem in the market.”

“If you know one subject, it does not mean that you have much knowledge of another. We train people in the application in practice. But companies now also know exactly what the hard and soft skills are of the people we have trained. This also allows us to create the perfect match. We also offer this directly to the people of our community, namely finding meaningful work.”

What role does ethics play inside FruitPunch AI?

Ethics is part of everything. My mission is to educate a group of people who, through us, can have a positive influence on the entire field and world. That is why we trained them in the ethical and sustainable application of AI. Ethics is often spoken of as an aspect that is only discussed afterwards. What you must do is teach the people who develop it themselves, so that it becomes ‘ethics by design.”

“Ultimately, my goal is for the people we train to determine where innovation does or does not happen. Take the oil industry as an example. I don’t want AI engineers to go to this industry because I don’t want innovation to happen there. I don’t want them to stay competitive, the parties that don’t act ethically, shouldn’t be developed there either. They should not have the ability to innovate. That’s my most controversial goal.”

If the oil industry can’t innovate itself, they can’t improve, can they?

“Yes, that’s the whole point. If we look at this industry; do they even want to innovate and improve themselves? Their entire research and development in the field of renewable energy is simply part of their marketing budget. That budget is insignificantly small if you compare it with their research & development in the field of more oil profit. It’s politically correct to not talk about it, but my goal is to educate peers who can apply AI in the right sectors.”

AI For Wildlife. The project in which a drone tracks poachers with thermal cameras.

You have a project in which you track down poachers, can you tell us some more about it?

“This is a partnership with nature reserve and SPOTS, a non-profit, operating in Pilanesberg, Northwest of Johannesburg in South Africa. They were already working there with unmanned drones to track down poachers. They have the problem that flying the drones is very effective, but that they must continuously employ three people and must continue to pay them. We started using it to learn to fly this drone autonomously and to automatically detect poachers on the images.”

“That started when I was introduced to Pieter Boon, Co-Founder of Cape AI. I was already looking for a reason to go to South Africa. I have a rule for myself that I don’t think the emissions of an aeroplane are worth it, unless I find a project that can have a major impact on the world, justifying the emissions. Finally, we encountered SPOTS, and we made a scan of the area and looked at the problem and possible solutions. That solution became an autonomous drone that could recognize people through thermal cameras. Thanks to this drone, six poachers have been caught so far. Once the thermal camera detects poachers, the last GPS location, and the direction they were walking are sent to Rangers. They can then catch the poachers.”

How can the AI ecosystem help you?

“If you have an interesting challenge that solves a problem that is important for people and life on Earth, we would like to help you with that. If you’re looking for AI engineers, we’d love to work with you to find out exactly what you need and whether we can deliver them to you.”

2048 1934 Pepijn van Vugt

Pepijn van Vugt

Pepijn van Vugt is editor for who specializes in data, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

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