Road to Intersect - Matt Merrifield- Nature Conservancy - Udacity

When you see the words “nature” and “conservation” do you immediately think “machine learning” and “artificial intelligence?” If so, then you may already know about Matt Merrifield and the work he’s doing with The Nature Conservancy.

If you didn’t expect to see all those words together, then you may be especially intrigued by Matt’s story! Better still, you might want to see him speak at Intersect 2017!

Matt Merrifield joined The Nature Conservancy in 2000, bringing with him more than 20 years of experience using geospatial technologies for natural resource mapping projects. As he describes in the video below (more on that in a moment!), The Nature Conservancy’s original model was to go out and do transactions with private landholders who were willing to sell their properties, when it was discovered that the properties had a high amount of biodiversity.

Through Matt’s work, the Nature Conservancy has been able to significantly intensify their efforts using technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. They’re able to collect far more data, and most importantly, make more sense of the data. These kinds of opportunities are exactly what attracted Matt to the role in the first place, and it’s why he continues to be so passionate about his work:

“The thing that’s interesting about The Nature Conservancy, it’s a very entrepreneurial place. We know the world’s got a lot of problems as it comes to ecosystems and species decline, and so, if you’re willing to find a new way to do things, you’re absolutely given a lot of leeway to pursue that.”

Our interview with Matt, from which the above quote is taken, took place while he and Chris Morell (Marketing Director, Udacity) tooled around in Udacity’s own Self-Driving Car. There’s something really remarkable listening to Matt describe the use of drones equipped with infrared cameras to map roosting bird populations in a given area, knowing he’s rolling along in an autonomous vehicle. Technology!

The Nature Conservancy is a great example of the impact transformative technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence are having in fields that aren’t normally thought of as being “tech” spaces, and Matt’s work in particular shows us how technology can be used to serve social good initiatives. If this is something that interests you, please watch the rest of the interview below, especially if you’d like to hear Matt’s thoughts on what the future holds in the way of new opportunities for technology, and for careers in this very exciting space where technology and social good are coming together to improve our world.

Road to Intersect – Matt Merrifield from Udacity on Vimeo.

See Matt Merrifield at Intersect 2017!