It can write articles and essays. Create amazing artwork in Midjourney v5. It can edit photos, even compose music. Seen as a curse by some, a blessing to others, AI can do it all. But here’s a different question: can AI help make the world a more sustainable place by fighting climate change?
That may sound unlikely when groups of experts are sounding the alarm about AI. For example, thousands of tech pundits called for a pause on the development of powerful AI models. Even the “AI godfather”, Geoffrey Hinton, who worked for years at Google on AI systems, has left the tech giant. He wants to be able to openly warn about the dangers of AI, he told The New York Times.
Despite expert warnings, few companies seem to care. ChatGPT maker, OpenAI, for example, previously let it be known that it would not join the break. And that could be dangerous, scientists say. The lightning-fast developments could make for too-smart AI systems.
As the researchers wrote in that open letter: “Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?”
Using AI to our advantage
A doomsday scenario, but it certainly doesn’t have to come to that, observes Laura van der Hart. She is manager of Epoch, one of the “dream teams” at the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology. The idea: each dream team of students dedicates a year, away from their studies, to build a technological innovation.
“We can also use AI to our advantage,” van der Hart said. “We want to show that artificial intelligence can work with people, instead of just working against people.”
For example, artificial intelligence can make predictions about future climate conditions. This, in turn, can help develop better models that predict scenarios for managing climate change. Think of weather models or predictions about extreme weather events, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
AI can also help optimise energy consumption. For example, Epoch developed an AI model that predicts when it is best to use your generated solar power immediately, and when you can temporarily store it on a battery.
Ways AI can help fight climate change
Artificial intelligence can also play a role in the development and design of cities. Using existing data to calculate and predict how hot, humid or dry an area is and will be in the future can help with climate-proof design. Policy makers can take this into account when designing an area.
As long as a lot of data is available, artificial intelligence can use that data in models and predictions. Thus, it can soon be used in numerous sustainability issues.
Consider the fight against food waste. AI can be used to more accurately predict food demand so that less food is wasted. Or the technology can be used to improve the supply chain, making food more efficiently distributed and less likely to spoil. Similarly, AI can improve and optimise food production in agriculture. All are examples of how AI can be used to fight climate change.
Every advantage has a disadvantage
But the latter can also have a downside. If a particular algorithm is used to optimise agricultural practices, it can also lead to a monoculture of crops. Because that is often efficient, but not conducive to biodiversity.
Moreover, an AI model can only do its job properly if there is a huge amount of data available AND it has had a lot of training. And that requires energy. Sure, such computer systems may run on green power, but that power would otherwise have been used for other purposes.
Artificial intelligence can play a role in identifying sustainability issues. Based on existing data, models can come up with possible solutions. Still, humanity remains responsible for implementing them.
This article was originally published on change.inc and can be read in Dutch here.
For more on sustainability in Tech
AI can help fight climate change, but that’s just a small part of the equation. Check out these additional articles on sustainability:
- Why smart, sustainable businesses must think about software
- Five simple steps to make your business IT more sustainable
- An overview of Ecosia, the German, B-Corp certified, search engine that plants trees.
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