Technologies are just tools, and can only provide value when used in the right manner. It is people’s responsibility to evaluate the direction the world is headed in, especially matters related to sustainable growth, and identify desirable future goals at the same time.
Over the last few decades, both technology and innovation have made a huge impact on our living conditions. Although technology is also among the culprits of some of our problems, clearly technological development will be at the heart of moving towards a sustainable future, which will prove to be beneficial for everyone.
What is Sustainable Development?
Although most people know this term, they don’t fully understand it. Sustainable growth is a way of organizing society so that it can exist in the long run. This can involve anything we do in the present and what we plan to do in the future, such as the preservation of the environment and natural resources or social and economic equity.
In the year 2015, the United Nations published the 17 specific Sustainable Development Goals (called SDG’s) as a kind of roadmap that the world should follow, to guarantee sustainable growth by the year 2030. These goals range from affordable and clean energy to ending poverty, hunger and gender inequality to preserve our biodiversity (for Economy, Society and Environment).
What can AI to do help?
Over the past few years, we’ve come to know how big of an impact Artificial Intelligence can play in our lives, as there have been constant talks about AI and robots taking over our jobs. However, in the sea of this dystopian information, we can see the good side of things, where AI can help us make the world a better place to live in. Meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a global attempt of achieving sustainable growth, as AI can become a powerful tool towards more sustainable living.
The McKinsey Global Institute has done several surveys that show about 160 cases of AI’s real or potential uses that could benefit society non-commercially. The technologies that can be used are natural language processing (NLP), machine learning, deep learning, computer vision, and others, to make a difference.
The most exciting field of AI application lies in the use of satellite data. A startup named Planet Labs (founded in 2010 by 3 NASA scientists) operates the largest satellite fleet in history, with over 200 mini-satellites orbiting our planet to scan the entire landmass of the planet once a day. Companies can access that data and even order custom features, making it a reality for private access to real-time monitoring of the earth’s surface.
One interesting AI use case is to protect the world’s fisheries using satellite data. Global Fishing Watch processes over 22 million position messages everyday from more than 200,000 ships to detect patterns that tell which vessels are fishing, when and where. This allows anyone with an internet connection to see fishing activity anywhere in the ocean in near real-time, for free.
The agricultural sector has recently seen an AI revolution with hopes for higher efficiency and lower consumption of vital resources. A startup called Nectar developed a fully integrated beehive management system that allows beekeepers to monitor their beehives in real-time just with their smartphones. They can get early warning signals through this, without disturbing the colony.
Green-house company Plenty uses IoT sensors and machine learning to grow crops indoors using only light, water and nutrients. The company claims it uses only 1 percent of water compared to traditional farming techniques while at the same time growing up to 350 times more!
In the energy sector, the implementation of intelligent networks is gathering a lot of excitement. Through this, we can connect producers, consumers, and supply energy in time when needed. AI can be used to predict energy consumption peaks and help with real-time optimization of operations settings that organizations use.
A company called Gridhound has developed a cloud-based Advanced Distribution Management System that targets network providers as customers. It allows network providers to monitor and optimize their distribution grids in real time through a pay-per-use machine learning based software solution.
One of the most important initiatives hosted by the UN, started last year with the AI for Good Global Summit, which creates a neutral platform for exchange and brings together UN officials with AI experts and industry to build common understanding for the opportunities and challenges of the implementation of AI technologies.
With the use of AI, manufacturing can become faster, produce higher quality products, and create smarter distribution chains. Companies have started incorporating AR and VR tech in their marketing efforts by introducing digital avatars and visualizers for customers to have a smooth personalized experience.
Making education accessible to everyone is tricky for AI alone to solve. However, AI can be enabled in the form of a virtual assistant to help young girls and boys get a chance to learn better by providing each child with a different experience. Students can ask these virtual avatars whatever they want without thinking twice like they would with a real teacher.
According to a report by Max Tegmark and eight other co-authors, 79% of the SDGs could actually be enabled with AI. This is huge as the potential AI has to achieve the impossible is pretty clear! But this won’t be an easy task as AI raises a lot of questions to be addressed. This can range from biased results (if AI is trained on biased data) to political polarization with targeted marketing. However, if governments and organizations around the world spend time and effort on shaping new regulations, sustainable solutions, and ethical guidelines, we can ensure that AI solutions are thoughtfully checked and implemented. The time to act is now and we have a chance to make the world a better place for everyone.