The environment has been a hot topic for some time, literally. As global temperatures continue to rise, and we see the impact of climate change on water availability, weather patterns, and natural disasters, discussion about what can be done continues to heat up as well.
When you think of artificial intelligence, it’s easy to think of robots or the technology that helps you organise your calendar. But machine learning is a different kind of AI, and it’s about using computers to sort through big data, and analysing this data so we can change our behaviour.
With traditional programming, programmers need to explain (in painstaking detail) to the computer what they want it to do. Machine learning is when programmers instead teach the computer to learn by itself.
In fact, artificial intelligence may be just what humans need to save us from ourselves. Here are some ways AI is helping us save the environment:
Technology advancements have been making life easier for drivers for some time now, with smart streets tracking available parking and apps saving driving time. Now, artificial intelligence is beginning to take this even further.
Artificial intelligence has already made huge strides in the auto industry. Smart features currently being used and developed include built-in smart assistants, self-driving programs, and impact detection. While these are convenient, AI is also going to have a direct impact on the environment by helping people get to where they need to be more efficiently and reducing the number of vehicles currently on the road.
This will reduce one of the biggest sources of pollution. In the United States, transportation contributes to more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. By increasing efficiency and taking cars off the road, AI can help substantially reduce that number.
Getting people to their destinations more efficiently also has other environmental benefits. Less fuel used means less fuel sold. And that means lower demand for fossil fuels. If people use more ride-sharing services and avoid purchasing their own cars, we may even see fewer cars manufactured, cutting down on that impact as well.
Another major area where artificial intelligence and machine learning is helping with the environment? Species conservation. The Cornell Institute and Cornell Lab of Ornithology have developed an app called eBird. This app allows ordinary people to enter data about any birds they see around them. So far, more than 300,000 volunteers have submitted more than 22 million hours worth of fieldwork.
This type of data allows the institute to predict where certain species will change habitat, and where they’ll move during migration. They can then share those predictions with conservationists and policy-makers who use it to make decisions about how they can protect bird habitats.
You probably remember DeepMind from that time it beat a human champion at the board game Go.
Last year, Google achieved a major breakthrough, utilizing DeepMind’s technology to use 40% less energy when cooling its data centres. This is a major breakthrough and demonstrates how AI can be used to make manufacturing plants, energy grids, power plants, and data centres more efficient. These are huge, energy-intensive operations, and the more efficiently they use power, the fewer greenhouse gases emitted.
Data centres alone consume approximately 3% of global energy each year. Google is now exploring how this technique can be extended to other large-scale infrastructure like the national grid.
These are just a few examples of how AI is having a positive impact on the environment. While many believe AI will be a threat to humans, the truth is that it can help us save the environment, improve safety, and make life easier for people everywhere.
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