Ben Woodward serves as the Co-Founder and CEO of CVision AI, a company he established with the mission of creating practical, large-scale computer vision solutions. Computer vision is an exciting field of computer science that enables computers and systems to analyze and derive meaningful information from images and videos. In his capacity as Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI) at Ocean Vision AI, Ben leverages his extensive expertise in computer vision and software development to guide the Ocean Vision AI program.
Ben and his two children showing off a crab on a river in South Carolina.
How did you get involved with Ocean Vision AI? What motivated you to take on a leadership role?
Ben: I am an algorithm person. That’s my training and I love algorithms. I’m also a huge advocate of open data and open source tools. If you put those two things together in service of a tangible goal, like ocean stewardship, that’s very compelling to me.
Katy Croff Bell introduced me to Kakani Katija at the Here Be Dragons event in 2018. I had been talking to Katy about the idea of needing open data and more data to be able to do algorithm development for things like fisheries monitoring. Then, Kakani showed up and said, “MBARI has tons of visual data and we’re trying to figure out what to do with it.” That’s how FathomNet was born and we’ve all been working together ever since. Ocean Vision AI grew from our collaboration and our recognition that we needed to create more than just a library and an API in FathomNet. We need to provide solutions for a range of issues that both the data science and the marine science communities face. Plus, part of that solution could be an opportunity to engage a wider community of non-professional, ocean enthusiasts and bring them into this process.
I didn’t have a deep connection with the ocean before this project, but I feel fortunate to have made that connection through my work on Ocean Vision AI.
What do you hope Ocean Vision AI achieves in the long run?
Ben: I hope that Ocean Vision AI and the products that we create can serve as a shining example for the potential of open data and open source tools. Data is the currency of AI these days and people are able to make a lot of money off of proprietary data, so it’s hard to incentivize people to share data openly. Through Ocean Vision AI, I want to prove that, in fact, open data benefits computer scientists, ocean scientists, and everyone, really. I hope we inspire people to create similar, open source solutions in other domains.
Ben onstage at Here Be Dragons event in 2018.
Which product of Ocean Vision AI are you the most excited about and why?
Ben: The Portal. I’m excited to foster the accessibility of video data from the ocean. I hear this story all the time where people say, “We captured all this data as part of this cruise but we don’t know what to do with it. We’ve got three 20TB hard drives, but they’re just sitting on a shelf. Now what?” The goal of Portal is to be a place where that data can go, to interface with the institutions that are collecting that data, and making it publicly accessible.
The way that we’re augmenting the tools of the Portal with user experience (UX) design is really exciting too. I’m used to customizing tools for specific people or groups, so I’m learning a lot about how to build a platform that’s intuitive for everyone.
Lastly, what do you wish more people knew about your work?
Ben: Technology for collecting visual data in the ocean has improved dramatically to the point where we are collecting so much data that it’s hard to keep up with processing all that imagery. As a community, we now have to focus time and effort into developing tools that can enable stakeholders to efficiently convert ocean imagery into tangible insights.