There is no use denying it, climate crisis is real. The Anthropocene, said to be a new geological epoch in which man is the main actor on all natural changes, the period we are living in is scary.
Today I do not wish to discuss the facts and stats of this very pressing matter, but rather introduce a conversation about the potential ways to solve, or better, this said crisis. This article seeks to understand how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can contribute positively towards our environment. Indeed, AI is embedded in our everyday actions, and from calling a doctor via that new app, to scrolling through Instagram, data is analysed, sorted, filtered to be intelligently designed for us.
The scientific processes behind AI might remain mysterious to us social scientists, the social implications of AI are not, and it is easy for anyone to understand a technology such as AI has the capability to make heavy, incremental changes to our lives, and to our environment.
Attending the AIBE summit last year opened my eyes on the versatility of AI, how its applications touch a wide array of themes including sustainability.
Why AI gives a future to our planet, predicting trajectories and giving hope – AI, ML, and climate change data
ML learning firstly can have a role at a large scale through its quick sorting of data which permits fast analysis of a wide range of situations associated with the climate crisis.
AI can permit intelligent data modelling, permitting forecasts by interpreting extracted data and recognising correlated data without need for human intervention. ML can be used to understand future pathways of biodiversity loss, CO2 emissions, sea level rise, ice sheet depletion, temperature levels and natural disaster prevalence. Particularly, it can help us monitor the supply and demand of our natural resource stock, from CO2 to oil to crops.
While the current and future trajectories of the hereby mentioned phenomenon can be calculated by man solely, ML make the process greatly more efficient. In the age of Big Data, AI is needed for us to float amidst the constant waves of new data flowing in.
AI here is beneficial to understand climate change’s implications at a national and international scale, providing clear numbered trajectories which encourage supra-national debates. The figures from the aforementioned variables are often used in environmental policy reports, encouraging new climate legislation.
“AI cannot be the whole
bearer and mender of the
AI should instead be a tool
of change, evolving from
How AI is used by individuals indirectly every day to combat climate change
Another use of AI to better our environment is seen though products and scientific discoveries created with AI used by us every day.
Indeed, AI has tangibly impregnated our everyday life through smart robots, machines, or apps. Last year we hosted Grey parrot, a brand boasting an intelligent robotic arm that can sort waste alone. Far from being the only intelligent robot of the kind, many brands are now developing intelligent objects that encourage a good health or less pollution. From electric autonomous vehicles to solar panelled planes, or mobility is turning towards AI, but so are our eating habits, with intelligent apps such as ‘too good to go’ encouraging food waste reduction.
Our connected generation uses AI every day, sometimes unknowingly fighting to stop the climate crisis. Actions as simple as using google maps can make one realise that, due to traffic, walking is quicker than taking the bus, thus choosing to walk would indirectly positively contribute to reducing emissions.
However, this last example highlights an important point I wish to bring forwards in this article. In the above case, while the app can give insight, we, the humans, are the one to decide and make the final call. AI needs to be used as a tool but cannot replace our honourable ambitions of tackling climate change.
AI is a potential ‘solution’, but only if humans decide they want in
AI can make our life and our environment’s life easier. ML permits on a larger scale the quick sorting of big data, which enables prediction of many climate related variables on a precise scale.
But AI cannot be dissociated from man. AI technology will only continue developing in a ‘climate friendly’ manner, dissuading negative externalities caused by human activity, if humans and institutions are intent on reducing their carbon footprints. Some AI technology, praised globally as green and life changing, will never counterbalance trends if man continues his actual model of consumption.
Hence, without a general ambition from all of society’s actors, from governments, firms to individuals, we cannot hope to make long lasting change.
“AI Technology will never
counterbalance trends if
man continues his actual
model of consumption’
Just like the main ethical debates around AI usually agree that this science should improve human wellbeing while not replacing humans or their jobs, AI cannot be the whole bearer and mender of the climate crisis.
AI should instead be a tool of change, evolving from human ambition. While machines can help man, human’s role, and envy to better the environment is crucial. Business as usual trajectories must be ceased, and mindsets determined to fight the crisis. Today, this implies recognition of environmental issues on a political scale but also understanding that not everyone is to blame, the developed world being disproportionately guilty. AI technology, despite being intelligent, is still designed by human and without clear ambition, AI will help but not to the full extent it can in solving the climate crisis.
AI helps us today, encouraging more eco-friendly practices, AI more importantly helps us tomorrow, forecasting future environmental trends, but that will only happen if we decide we want help.
Written by Jeanne Rouot