AI for Climate ChangePosted: June 24, 2024

Remember those futuristic moments in the MCU, when we had Friday, Jarvis, or even Skynet in Terminator. What do they have in common? They are all forms of artificial intelligence (AI). AI powers our digital lives. It lives in our smartphones, powers our games and apps, in the web and in “Hey Siri”. However, scholars, scientists and similar parties are attempting to determine AI’s usefulness in fighting climate change. In short, AI is actually very promising to fight climate change.

A quick blurb on AI is in order. They are super-programs that can discern patterns, make better predictions and make better politics. The ultimate goal is AI able to act like a fully functioning human (the Turing Test), which we are very far away from. However, today’s AI is more subtle in our daily lives. For example, when we get recommendations on Netflix based off our previous history. The point of AI is to use machine learning in order to get better in making decisions, discerning patterns and the like. Now, with a better idea of what AI is, we can finally address it with regards to its impact on climate change.

There are numerous benefits for an AI approach to climate change. For example, Yale researchers note that AI is being“used to analyze images of shallow-water reefs to recognize coral by color to track the effects of climate change, temperature, humidity, and carbon-dioxide data to track the health of our forests” They can also democratize electricity by being a better delivery service than humans can ever be. Similarly, AI can ensure that the electric grid is being used efficiently, thereby maximizing usage.

Here’s a real world example: China is using IBM’s Green Horizon to track air pollution, and find potential mitigating strategies. For instance, restricting number of drivers or close certain power plants.

However, we must remember that AI is not all sunshine and rainbows; there are some concerns we should keep in mind. First, large supercomputers and data centres use significant amounts of energy. While most of the resources rely on renewable energy, the question is whether the renewable energy is enough to offset AI’s emissions. Hopefully, we will see continuous progress as technology advances.

Second, there are ethical concerns of whether AI should be dictating climate policy. Where is AI’s role in this? Does it act as a helping hand or a ‘World Director’ of sorts? Does AI calling the shots take away our freedom and autonomy to make decisions? If yes, is it legitimate if it is for the safety of our planet. I recommend you check out the show “Travellers” for more information, or if you prefer reading, read Climate Leviathan by Wainwright and Mann. This ethical issue of AI’s role is largely the most important topic that needs to be addressed.

Yet, as a whole, AI remains promising to fight climate change. It has tangible benefits and as technology progresses, it is going to get even better. The most important issue that needs to be addressed is AI’s role. I am a bit biased towards an AI director to ensure decisions are being made for the objective survival and benefit of humanity. We just have to prevent a Skynet. We do not know all the answers, and therefore require more investigation into how to safely ensure AI’s place in all this. What do you think?