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AI might save lives on a climate changed Earth

By Yair Oded

Sep 21, 2018

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2018 has seen a disturbing surge in the effects of climate change, which wreak havoc across every continent. Whether it’s due to unbearable droughts or perilous floods, entire communities around the world undergo the painful process of bouncing back from natural disasters and readjusting their lives to the rapidly changing climate and topographical conditions of the Earth. Although human activity and global industrialisation are to blame for the destruction of our planet’s ecosystem, it seems that, at least to an extent, a solution to the problem could emerge from technological advancements. Numerous initiatives are currently underway to utilise Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data in order to both prepare for the changing landscape of coastal areas and increase the efficiency of human activity in order to minimise its adverse impact on the environment.

One Concern is a start up managed by Craig Fugate, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The company employs AI and machine learning technologies to provide local authorities, community leaders, and decision makers with highly precise data regarding upcoming natural disasters, which will allow them to adequately prepare for their impact. One Concern supplements their high tech services with an in-person training to help their clients assess, respond to, and recover from natural disasters. In an interview for Scientific American, Fugate states, “If we can make the risks more definitive, we can at least start to get more control over our destiny—versus it being inflicted upon us each time a storm hits.” Fugate further argues that as part of its mission, One Concern advocates for an equal and fair transformation of coastal areas which over the next decades will have to plan for massive relocation of its population. Fugate warns against a scenario in which the burden of moving will be placed solely on lower income communities, and that big data and AI will be exploited by biased entities and developers seeking to maximise profits. The start-up considers all these factors when providing assistance and consultation to its clients.

Disaster prevention is only one aspect of the High Tech vs. Climate Change trend. AI For Earth is an initiative developed by Microsoft seeking to employ AI in an eco-friendly manner. The programme is aimed at providing individuals and organisations with technology that allows them to utilise climate data in order to increase the efficiency of their water and energy usage. Specifically, the programme uses AI in order to translate and process raw data of environmental systems so that farmers and agricultural companies could divide it into categories that make sense to them. In collaboration with the National Geographic Society, AI For Earth will be giving grants to a selected group of AI app designers and projects they believe could help perfect their product and furnish members of the agricultural sector, scientists, and sustainable initiatives with valuable and usable data regarding climate patterns.

Despite these tech advancements, here still lies an inherent risk in profiting off of such critical data compiled by AI and machine learning, as overtime such initiatives could be primarily concerned with monetary gains as opposed to tackling climate change and providing equal assistance to all those who are vulnerable to its effects. And so, as such technology is developed, it is crucial that both national and international organisations and bodies oversee its usage and ensure that its application benefits more than a select-wealthy-few.