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When you ask the person on the street what they would do to save the planet, the word “technology” rarely gets mentioned. Many people only see the gadgets we use as stumbling blocks on the road to a cleaner future. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Some of those technologies are helping to turn the tide against environmental destruction. Here are five ways that artificial intelligence in particular is helping in the fight for a better tomorrow.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are already hard at work in analytics across multiple fields. Meteorologists use digital forecasting tools to make short and long-term climatic predictions, and as global warming grows as a threat, this capability is more critical than ever before. The ability of AI algorithms to make accurate predictions scales with complexity, so as time goes on, they become more effective. Deep-learning networks and distributed computing systems allow functions that used to be limited to supercomputers to be available on a home computer. Working with these big-data powerhouses will enable scientists and engineers to effect climate change solutions and increase the resiliency of communities. As computer technologies like memory storage and wafer-scale integration techniques advance, so will the power of AI.
Another boon to growing communities brought by artificial intelligence is the use of AI to augment and streamline design. Already CAD/CAM systems are benefiting from the integration of automated tools. The payoff is efficiency, and this is where the applications to sustainability come into focus. Buildings can be designed using vast amounts of environmental data in order to minimize their impact on that environment. A good example of this concept in action is generative design software. Generative design is an iterative process, meaning it can generate multiple possible solutions to a given problem and refine goals as the design process evolves. This translates to a wider array of possibilities for architecture to seamlessly integrate human and natural elements to the benefit of both.
When used in concert with satellite imagery, AI can help to detect and monitor changes throughout the biosphere. Qualities like vegetation coverage and land usage can be measured and oncoming threats like desertification can be predicted and minimized. These methods are especially useful in safeguarding the oceans. Ocean health is a product of multiple factors such as acidity, temperature and mineral content. AI can be of use in collating and digesting this massive amount of data. Illegal fishing and poaching can even be monitored more effectively by using behavioral prediction software. In other words, AI has the complexity needed to help make sense of a complicated world.
This same behavioral prediction capability has another use: predicting supply and demand in the energy grid. This in turn can cut waste and speed disaster recovery, as well as maximize the effectiveness of economic incentives for renewables. There is one downside to all of this: AI is itself energy-intensive. According to MIT research, training a single AI model can emit up to 626,000 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s a stark reminder that technology is only as effective as the wisdom of the human mind employing it. It also underscores the necessity of building these devices using sustainable techniques and thinking about these issues in a holistic way.
As much as the average person might resent the use of algorithms on social media sites like Facebook, they certainly facilitate the networking of people with similar interests. The most powerful tool we have in fighting climate change and other environmental issues is ecological literacy. AI programs can get relevant content to interested members of the public quickly. They’ve recently been working overtime to weed out bad research and fake news spreading online. When the survival of the planet is at stake, high-quality data and objective truth are invaluable. AI can help get that information to the people.
Life isn’t a zero-sum game. It may sound counterintuitive, but the tools we use to make our lives easier can also help to make the world cleaner. Using those tools with wisdom is the key to a brighter future.
Author: Finnegan Pierson
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