Technology: a problem or a solution for climate change? Here's how AI can help

In the last couple of years there’s been an intense debate about nature, about our planet and its future. On the one hand, we have the individuals that point out the disastrous effect technological advancements have had on climate change. After all, early developments in the 1800s allowed people to generate electricity for homes and factories, but they also led to more carbon emissions. However, whether technology is or not the only one responsible for the current circumstances is yet to be determined.

On the other hand, we have the ones that strongly believe global warming and melting glaciers are just random terms used by governments to make things sound more dramatic. But the truth is that the situation is already quite dramatic and it shows no sign that it will change its course in the near future unless humans decide to intervene. And since we’ve already seen that technology could be detrimental to climate change, why not turn things around and make it instrumental?

Considering artificial intelligence is able to work faster and with better accuracy than an individual and it can also make predictions further into the future, how about we use it to fight climate change? According to online media outlet CBC News, experts believe that AI could better predict extreme weather, flooding, natural disasters and any other destruction related to climate change. Furthermore, earlier in 2019, University of Waterloo joined hands with Microsoft AI for Earth in a project that aims to use AI and machine learning to find solutions in four specific areas, one of them being climate change.

There is also a roadmap that indicates how we could use machine learning to save our planet and humanity from imminent peril. The project is put together by some of the biggest names in AI research and highlights potential machine-learning interventions in 13 domains, from electricity systems to farms and forests to climate prediction. Within each domain, it breaks out the contributions for various sub-disciplines within machine learning, including computer vision, natural language processing (NLP), and reinforcement learning.

Climate change is eating away glaciers at a dramatic rate

Let’s dig more into how artificial intelligence can help us change the course of history by preventing our planet from dying.

It’s all about the data

To really comprehend the extent of the damage and how it can be fixed, we need a lot of data, that can afterwards be used to identify new solutions and make more accurate forecasts. And what better way to analyze data than with the help of AI? By studying and interpreting the data that is being gathered by sensors, gauges and monitors, we can get the bigger picture of how nature is changing. Climate scientists can then use the information to identify the highest vulnerabilities, risk zones as well as our chances to fight these changes.

Less polluted cities and smart agriculture

AI, deep learning and NLP can also help researchers develop innovative solutions to reduce air-pollution. For instance, IBM launched the Green Horizon Project that analyzes environmental data, predicts pollution and tests “what-if” scenarios that involve pollution-reducing tactics. IBM uses IoT, Big Data processing and cognitive computing to study environmental data from thousands of sources. This helps city planners create a clearer and more sustainable future.

Agriculture is another area that is affected by the extreme weather conditions, including heat waves or heavy rain. AI can use the data collected by the sensors that monitor the soil and the temperature to let us know when to water the field or when it’s the best time to plant or to harvest. In the long run, this will increase productivity and efficiency and also reduce the irresponsible use of water.

In London, air pollution has become a matter of life and death

Healthy oceans

The Ocean Data Alliance uses machine learning to turn data collected from satellites and ocean exploration into the necessary tools needed to monitor shipping, ocean mining, fishing, coral bleaching or the outbreak of a marine disease.

With the help of real-time data, decision-makers and authorities have the means to better prepare for problems and respond more adequately. Artificial intelligence can also help predict the spread of invasive species, follow marine litter, monitor ocean currents, keep track of dead zones and measure pollution levels.

Organizations using AI to combat climate change

Apart from the above-mentioned use cases, there are a lot of other initiatives that try to take advantage of the benefits AI can bring into the fight against climate change.

Grid Resilience & Intelligence Project - the project aims to apply machine learning to the power grid by using large amounts of satellite imagery, weather data, smart meter data and other information about utility operations to find and fix problems, such as trees’ growing over power lines, that could cause trouble in storms.

US-based company One Concern - uses artificial intelligence to model and forecast the impact of hazards.

Google DeepMind - using DeepMind’s machine learning algorithms to predict the wind output from the farms Google uses for its green energy initiatives, the company says it can now schedule set deliveries of energy output, which are more valuable to the grid than standard, non-time-based deliveries.

IBM’s Deep Thunder - big data relies on machine learning tools to initiate a global forecasting model. The Deep Thunder group is also aligning work with research centers in Brazil and India to accurately predict flooding and potential landslides due to the severe storms.

Trace Genomics - uses machine learning to provide soil analysis services to farmers. The emphasis is on preventing defective crops and optimizing the potential for healthy crop production.

Footprint Coalition - this is a recent initiative launched by famous actor Robert Downey Jr. Following on Iron Man's footsteps, the actor claims that Earth can only be saved with the help of artificial intelligence. The organization plans on using robots and advanced technology to combat climate change.

These are only a few of the use cases for artificial intelligence in climate change. Leveraging the advantages of machine learning, deep learning and NLP, we can tackle a great deal of other issues that global warming brings into our lives. However, not matter the role AI plays in saving the future of our planet, it is also out duty, as humans, to do as much as possible to make sure there is a future for our world. Each one of us has the possibility to help put a stop to this destruction.

In the end, we leave you with an interesting podcast on artificial intelligence, biotech, climate change, overpopulation and many more.