Though creating a vaccine for COVID-19 is certainly atop the list of short-term “things to do” regarding the health and well-being of the people on this planet, the planet itself still needs our attention daily. A silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic has been large decreases in greenhouse emissions caused by stay-at-home orders and limited travel. As the country, and planet as a whole, begins to re-open, and regularity in travel increases again, so will the difficulties with combating climate change.
One very promising area in the fight against climate change is that which involves artificial intelligence. Here are some ways that AI is positively impacting the global battle against the human destruction of our planet.
A part of artificial intelligence is machine learning, and, by definition, machine learning is the process by which machines utilize algorithms to “learn” and predict outcomes without being explicitly programmed to know what a given outcome should/would be. A simple, every day example would be email filtering. If you never look at emails from Random Email Sender A, and send them to the spam folder, the AI surrounding your email will “learn” that Random Email Sender A is not sending you things you want to read and will start automatically funneling them into your spam.
When it comes to climate change, some promising examples of machine learning include identifying trends in energy production, CO2 removal, solar energy collection (i.e. trends in what seasons/times create the most energy), and even ways of saving money. This information can help planners create new buildings that maximize potential for renewable energy.
Weathermen and women, state and national park services, navigators of land, air, and sea, and many more have long since used past data to predict weather and climate, but collecting, analyzing, and properly utilizing this data involves a lot of labor hours, which also means a lot of money. With AI now being advanced enough to not only collect and store the data, but also to use said data to make “machine learning” based predictions can allow for funds to go directly to expensive building materials that are essential for renewable energy sources.
Carbon emissions are also more easily tracked and analyzed with the help of AI, and monitoring the emissions of fossil fuel facilities can be done by satellite now, making it quite difficult to hide. With AI that automatically displays emissions from countless plants around the globe, enforcement of regulations on those fossil fuel companies is easier than ever… so long as the enforcement agencies choose to use the information.
Shipping is still something that simply has to exist in a global economy, but once again, AI can (and is) help minimize emissions by determining the optimal “wheres” and “whens” as they pertain to shipping routes. In a similar vein, AI control systems in buildings can drastically reduce its energy use, saving the planet and helping a given business’s bottom line.
Though shipping is, indeed, a necessity in the global economy, it has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to emissions. AI is also being utilized to determine electric battery efficiencies, and in the not-so-distant future, vehicles much, much larger than our cars could be run by renewable resources charging very large, yet very efficient batteries.
Farming trends have been shifting heavily toward the single-crop style for years, because it’s just easier to take care of one crop, and thus more profitable. Unfortunately, single-crop farming results in less nutrients in the soil, so farmers use fertilizers which can be even more harmful to the environment than running heavy machinery. With AI, and machine learning, farmers can begin to move back towards multi-crop farming (good for the land), as they will be armed with predictive analysis regarding what plants grow best when, which plants grow together best, and which ones naturally fertilize the best.
Machine learning also is utilized heavily in the laboratories that engineer new, climate friendly materials, many of which relate to more efficient construction and farming practices.
Ultimately, climate change is an enemy that needs to be fought with everything we have, but artificial intelligence is one area that is proving to not only bring a lot of innovation to the fight, but also save substantial amounts of money to be used elsewhere on the battlefield.