Monday, August 5, 2019 - 11:45

On a tower in the Brazilian rainforest, a sentinel scans the horizon for the first signs of fire.

Only these eyes aren’t human. They don’t blink or take breaks, and guided by artificial intelligence they can tell the difference between a dust cloud, an insect swarm and a plume of smoke that demands quick attention. In Brazil, the devices help keep mining giant Vale SA working, and protect trees for pulp and paper producer Suzano SA.

The equipment includes optical and thermal cameras, as well as spectrometric systems that identify the chemical makeup of substances. By linking them to artificial intelligence, a small Portugal-based company working with IBM Corp. believes it can help tame the often unpredictable affects of climate change. Others are using AI to predict dangerous hail storms, and studying how it can help find victims in bad weather.

“Climate change is dramatically changing the way we look at this problem of wildfires,” said Vasco Correia, chief business officer at Compta Emerging Business Solutions, which builds the devices. “Two years ago we started looking to artificial intelligence and machine learning because we believe those can be game changers.”

In 2019, weather and climate events killed more than 4,000 people worldwide, and caused around $42 billion in insured losses, according to the insurer Munich Re. Compta’s goal is to limit losses with warnings that can help keep a small blaze from becoming a conflagration.

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