Animal Poaching Algorithms, Cash Donations, and a Beyond Perverse Incentive

Over the weekend, the Financial Times' Gillian Tett wrote an enlightening piece on the delightfully named Dr. Thomas Snitch and the brilliant algorithm he has designed to predict the patterns of primate poachers in Africa.

However, despite the clear benefits utilizing such an algorithm could produce, it is unlikely that it will be put into use any time soon. The reason? Among some other possibilities, Snitch suspects that by reducing poaching, he would be reducing urgency around the situation and therefore the ability of NGO's to attract donations. In short, saving animals from extinction efficiently would lead NGO's efficiently to their own extinction.

I am not sure that economics has a good solution to this problem. Perhaps it could be that skipping over the the NGO's and presenting technology directly to park rangers or other law enforcement officials (more efficient resource allocation) could work; however I am assuming there are some hurdles to such an approach since Snitch hasn't yet taken that tack. Is there a solution in the law? Maybe it could be a law forcing NGO's to utilize the best available technology in pursuing their mission. There are very clearly issues with enforcement, however, and in any case many African governments have bigger issues to contend with.

For now, I suppose awareness, which could lead to donor pressure, would be the most effective tool to ensure that some of this technology gets put into use at some point. After all, the raison d'etre of animal rights groups should be animal rights, not making money. There are plenty of other professions I could point them to if that is their goal...

No comments:

Post a Comment