A new article analyses the use of artificial intelligence to assist tree assessment.

Although the industry has raised the standards of tree risk assessment considerably in recent years, the quality of judgements is still very variable and influenced by a wide range of factors. Due to the complexity and diversity of trees and sites, collecting and verifying relevant personal experiences takes tree assessors many years. In many countries, new tree assessors learn from a small number of experienced peers.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to collect and condense scattered knowledge and deploy it in a support tool for basic tree assessment. In this project, the application of a commercial AI decision-making system software to tree assessment is tested. The software is based on a new dynamic nonclassical logic, which combines diverse knowledge sources to an emergent system to support visual tree assessments. A set of rules describes existing knowledge about the mostly unsharp parameters affecting the likelihood of failure and damage. The software evaluates the data collected during a basic tree assessment and provides an estimate of the level of risk posed by the tree. The result and the reasons for it are presented in plain language. Users can then examine this estimate and feed their own assessment back into the system to train it further, so that this “white” AI system is self-learning based on experience acquired in practical use.

The use of AI in tree risk assessment not only supports the user but can also be used to disseminate knowledge and promote the standardization of decision-making in tree assessment.

Important directions for further research and knowledge gaps related to the training of AI systems in the absence of industry-wide, agreed-upon criteria for risk identified in this project are: how to collect sufficient quality-assured data sets to define the initial set of rules; and how to assess the level of expertise of users training the system further.