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Opportunities and Risks for Citizen Science in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

What impact could artificial intelligence (AI) have on citizen science? Earthwatch Europe’s Innovation Lead, Luigi Ceccaroni, explores this question as a co-author in a recent article in the journal Citizen Science: Theory and Practice.

Entitled ‘Opportunities and Risks for Citizen Science in the Age of Artificial Intelligence’, the paper examines the increased use of AI in citizen science and its implications.

Several AI technologies are currently used in citizen science, such as those that assist or replace humans in completing tasks or those that improve insights. AI competence may be less than human competence, or it may be equal to or greater than it.

For example, the iNaturalist app allows members of the public to take photos of plants and animals and share them with the community. They can then be identified by experts but this can take a long time, meaning there are more photos than can be identified. If AI were able to do this then, in theory, as many photos as are shared could be identified.

One risk outlined for the use of AI in citizen science is that of data ownership and protection. If members of the public are contributing data to an AI citizen science project, there is a risk that the technology companies, who own the AI, will then own the data.

The paper suggests that a universally-agreed approach is needed. All data contributed in AI citizen science projects should be openly available, it should be possible to remove user data from the AI system, and that feedback or challenges to the AI’s conclusions can be submitted. Finally, it recommends that there are clear measures in place to judge the success of using AI in citizen science.


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