How can AI help in the fight against climate change?
By: Romy de Weert
(Re)writing texts, developing and editing photos and even composing music. AI (artificial or artificial intelligence) can do it all. Considered a curse by some, a blessing by others. Can AI help make the world a more sustainable place?
Many experts think we can work more efficiently through AI. We outsource tasks that are mind-numbing or simply too time-consuming to ChatGPT and other AI tools.
Yet another group of experts is sounding the alarm. For example, thousands of tech celebrities called for a pause on the development of powerful AI models. The 'AI Godfather', Geoffrey Hinton, who worked for years at Google on AI systems, has also left the tech giant. He wants to be able to warn openly about the dangers of AI, he tells The New York Times.
Despite experts' warnings, few companies seem to care. For example, ChatGPT maker, OpenAI, previously announced that it would not participate in the break. And that can be dangerous, say the scientists. The lightning-fast developments could lead to AI systems that are too smart.
What is the danger of AI?
The researchers wrote in an open letter: “Artificial intelligence is now becoming competitive in human tasks. We have to ask ourselves if we want to let these machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruths. Should we automate all our jobs, including fulfilling jobs? Should we develop artificial brains that will soon be more than us, smarter than us and that will replace us? Should we risk losing control of our civilization?"
Using artificial intelligence to our advantage
A doomsday scenario, but it certainly does not have to come to that, says Laura van der Hart. She is team manager of Epoch. The TU Delft dream team uses AI to solve sustainability issues. “We can also use AI to our advantage,” she previously said. “We want to show that artificial intelligence can work with people, instead of just against people,” said Van der Hart.
For example, artificial intelligence can make predictions about the future climate. This in turn can help develop better models that predict climate change management scenarios. Think of weather models or predictions about extreme weather conditions, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
Smarter use of energy consumption
The tool can also help optimize energy consumption. For example, Epoch developed an AI model that predicts when it is best to use your generated solar power immediately, and when you can temporarily store it on a battery.
Artificial intelligence can also play a role in the development and design of cities. Calculating and predicting how hot, humid or dry an area is and will be in the future using existing data can help with a climate-proof design. Policy makers can take this into account when designing an area.
As long as a lot of data is available, artificial intelligence can use that data in models and predictions. This means that it can soon be used in numerous sustainability issues. Also in the fight against food waste, for example. AI can be used to more accurately predict the demand for food, so that less food is wasted. Or the technique could be used to improve the supply chain, distributing food more efficiently and making it less likely to spoil. And think of the improvement and optimization of food production in agriculture.
Every advantage has a disadvantage
But the latter can also have a downside. If a particular algorithm is used to optimize agricultural practices, it can also lead to crop monoculture. Because that is often efficient, but not conducive to biodiversity.
Moreover, an AI model can only do its job properly if a lot of data is available and it has had a lot of training. And that takes a lot of energy. Computer systems can run on green electricity, but that electricity could also have been used for other purposes.
Artificial intelligence can play a role in identifying sustainability issues. Based on existing data, models can come up with possible solutions. Yet humanity remains responsible for its implementation.
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