Meet Nick Burns, CarbonCrop’s Machine Learning Team Lead
In this series we introduce you to our amazing team here at CarbonCrop. The people who make it possible for us to make a difference, and support us to achieve our mission. This time we’re introducing one of the people who make our AI so special.
Nick has been in the CarbonCrop crew for a while, leading the charge on countless projects to support the learning of our AI, and making it easier for CarbonCrop customers to learn about the sequestration of their forest. A kiwi with a passion for native forests, Nick has a solid foundation having a Masters in Data Science. With a love for big data and mathematics, he brings a unique skill set to allow us in putting our best foot forward with our AI technology. With his amazing team of Machine Learning Engineers, Nick helps CarbonCrop make a difference, by finding solutions to support landholders in understanding their forest’s carbon removals and reducing barriers for access to carbon credits.
What do you do at CarbonCrop?
I am a Machine Learning Engineer. My role is to research and develop the computer vision models which power CarbonCrop’s technology. I work closely with our customer team to understand how they use our product and design solutions to make their lives easier.
We also work closely with the team to identify new use cases and insights that CarbonCrop’s customers are looking for solutions to - these collaborations lead to new ideas and improvements to our technology. And of course, I work hand-in-hand with the Engineering team, who help bring our AI models to life.
How did you get here?
Completely by accident! My whole career, really, has been a series of happy accidents. I began studying chemistry and biochemistry at The University of Otago - and ended up in a biochemistry lab at Australian National University. However, I wasn’t ever a “test tubes and explosions” type of guy - I naturally gravitated towards physical chemistry with its mix of maths and big data. I enjoyed playing with big lasers, massive magnets and streams of data.
Over time, this led me down a path where I learned to program, massage huge datasets and mine these for insights. Eventually, it led me back to university to complete my Masters in Data Science. Since then, I’ve worked in genomics, for large corporates and public organisations.
I was lucky to be introduced to CarbonCrop through a mutual friend. What began as a casual conversation snowballed into meeting the team and learning about their mission. I had worked on similar computer vision projects previously, and the idea of applying my skills to help protect native forests and biodiversity was too good to turn down.
Why do you love it?
From a technical perspective, my role is very much about applied research: how can we apply computer vision and AI to tackle some of the most pressing problems that we face - climate change. CarbonCrop’s customers are passionate about the environment, about biodiversity and sustainable farming.
It is genuinely a privilege to be a small part of their mission, to help enable more efficient farming practices and to actively participate in the protection and regeneration of native forests. It’s rare to have a job which is both technically challenging and fulfilling, alongside a mission which is so positive and important.
Is there anything cool you’re working on / have worked on that you’re particularly proud of?
My role really is applied research. On any given day, we’re reading and then implementing state-of-the-art methods from the computer vision and remote sensing research community.
I have my favourite researchers and authors, and I am unashamedly biased towards the work of Nobel laureates Geoffrey Hinton and Yan le Cun. I think it’s incredible that, in this era of open research, we can pick up a brand new paper from someone like le Cun and immediately be using those ideas and techniques to improve our own work.
I’m particularly fascinated by self-supervised learning and ways that we can leverage these methods to help monitor forest health and respond to recent events like the slips last year here in the Nelson region, or the more recent cyclone damage up north.
I really feel like we’re living on the cutting edge of research, but that we’re doing it in the real world and at a tremendous pace. What our customers are doing is important. It is world-changing. And it doesn’t sit still. It’s a privilege to help them and be a positive part of that fight.