The scope of artificial intelligence (AI) is sparking excitement in every sector across the world. With each advancement more inspiring than the last, industries such as cyber security, healthcare, and digital marketing are changing for good. Our future has never looked brighter.
But things are not quite perfect yet. Rising temperatures continue to melt glaciers. Emissions from countries like China and India are still increasing. To top it all off, the summer of 2022 saw record numbers of wildfires, floods, and droughts across the globe.
We understand if these facts are raising your anxiety levels. Before you panic, let us tell you the good news. With the right approach, support, and priorities, AI can become a powerful tool to combat climate change. Let’s look at the how, the why, and the next steps to take.
The role of artificial intelligence in sustainability
Firstly, AI can accelerate the global efforts already being undertaken by researchers, conservationists, and world leaders. Secondly, new opportunities are opened up because these intelligent systems produce solutions to once unreachable problems.
These uses of AI may be less well known than Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s Siri, but they could help us achieve an environmentally friendly tomorrow. With this in mind, they’re worth knowing about. So, without further adieu, here are some of the best.
Optimizing the energy used at home
We’ve probably all lived with someone at some point who was a bit stingy with the heating. Or we’ve been left frustrated when a housemate leaves every single light on. The truth is, the relationship between a house and the environment is significant.
Where we live contributes massively to energy consumption, water waste, and bad habits. This has gotten worse since the pandemic. A whopping 35% of respondents to a survey said they work from home full-time. Alternatively, 23% said they worked in a hybrid role.
With energy costs skyrocketing, time at home increasing, and pressure for sustainability mounting, what is there to do? Homeowners have found a solution in smart home devices. When these systems use AI, they can adjust to the user’s preferences and monitor usage so it stays in a specified range, limiting consumption without human intervention.
Here are some other ways this technology changes homes for the better.
- Learn from user data. AI can learn from the device owner using methods like deep learning and machine learning algorithms. This results in increased levels of comfort. For example, it will know not to switch on the lights too brightly or the music too loudly. This personalization may convince people to jump aboard.
- Full automation of tasks. Through AI and machine learning, the technology can be put on autopilot to save the user both energy and money. For example, smart light systems can turn the switch off if the room is unoccupied and smart washing machines can determine water usage based on the load weight.
- Insights and recommendations. For instance, if a user was to reach out to a virtual assistant or customer support chatbot, they could receive information about why changes need to be made and what good this does. This may make them more likely to actively contribute to a greener environment and change other habits. They could even recommend free AI and sustainability certification courses!
- Integration with renewable energy sources. Smart home devices can collaborate with sources such as solar panels. This lessens dependence on fossil fuels and reduces our carbon footprint, whilst also making it generally easier to do.
To give you an example of how this works in the real world, we’re going to look at the Nest. The learning thermostat uses impressive technology like Google Assistant, so you know it’s going to be good. The app will turn your water off for you if you forget before a holiday, adapt as it gets more data about your life, and even has proven energy savings.
As of 2022, it was estimated that nearly 35% of all homes in the US were smart homes. This isn’t yet the norm for all households, but as integration with AI becomes more common, many will be swayed by the connectivity and convenience of the technology.
What does this mean for us? Smart technology could become standard in new builds, ensuring that everyone can act with the planet in mind. It may make people less afraid of AI in society, improving its widespread adoption and support in other products, such as autonomous vehicles that generate fewer emissions than petrol cars.
Making sustainable fashion easier for all
It’s fair to say many of us love shopping. There’s something so exciting about finding that perfect addition to your beloved collection. Many of our wardrobes are full to the brim with bargain coats, half-price jeans, influencer-recommended t-shirts, and popular sweaters.
However, do many of us actually consider the impact we’ve had on the planet after we’ve hit the shopping mall? Buying a new outfit for every event can lead to overconsumption and inevitable waste. Purchasing every trendy item we see on social media causes fast fashion companies to thrive.
10% of worldwide carbon emissions come from clothing production. To combat this number, fashionistas have turned to sustainable alternatives. Attention has been directed towards ethically-sourcing manufacturers, thrift stores, and clear brand values. Believe it or not, AI can have a huge impact on each of these aspects of fashion.
Below are some of the specific environmental benefits of leveraging AI in this industry.
- Prototyping. AI can make it easier for designers to visualize their ideas, leading to fewer physical models being made. This reduces textile and resource waste.
- Marketplaces. You probably know about Vinted and Depop. AI can optimize the efficiency of these types of platforms through features like automated product categorization, making them user-friendly. It also means startups and smaller businesses trying to make a difference will be more likely to succeed.
- Material selection. Sometimes producers just need a push. AI algorithms can identify the most eco-friendly materials from the nearest places for the lowest price. They suggest these to the user to make the process as simple as possible.
- Virtual assistants and chatbots. AI uses natural language processing (NLP) and neural networks to understand text as if it were a human brain with human intelligence. This allows it to deliver suggestions about sustainable alternatives based on the user’s specific wants, budget, and thought processes.
While this is a largely unexplored area of retail, some innovators are already launching platforms. For example, Bintu Alkassoum is a figure in both the fashion and software development industries. Her brand, Relooped, is an AI-driven marketplace that uses algorithms to find exactly what the user was looking for in overstock inventory. This gives the clothes a much-deserved second life.
The products come from mission-driven companies, meaning users don’t have to do their own research, which can be an off-putting part of ethical shopping. Relooped also facilitates partnerships with businesses to offer products at a significantly reduced price.
How will this look in the future? Right now, sustainable fashion can be more expensive because of where it comes from, the materials used, and the quality of production. However, AI can streamline these operations, making the clothes cheaper. This could rival the less conscious competitors and force them to align with environmental values.
Driving environmental action through data
Imagine data as the energy that powers AI systems. If this relationship didn’t exist, none of this would be possible. The algorithmic models wouldn’t have any way to train, the technology wouldn’t be able to learn, and there would be no way to make such intuitive predictions. The true scope of AI is entirely dependent on these raw materials.
This collaboration works both ways, though. Data science existed before AI, but the addition of this technology allows us to do things we couldn’t do on our own. For example, algorithms can find nonlinear relationships, unbiased patterns, and correlations or anomalies we might otherwise miss.
This capacity has made the applications of AI endless. From Facebook, to Microsoft, to Google, everyone is getting in on it. But it’s the value of sustainability efforts that we are most interested in.
Let’s dive into the uses of data analytics already being practiced.
- Circular economic system. Machine learning engineers can create algorithms to optimize processes such as waste management and identify opportunities for recycling or upcycling that weren’t previously considered. This is done through data analysis of recycling rates and product life cycles.
- Conservation efforts. Through resources like sensor data, patterns can be discovered about poaching, deforestation, and habitat degradation. This allows for intervention before too much harm is done and greater protection of wildlife.
- Optimize supply chains. AI algorithms will analyze supply chain data to find the most viable and sensible solutions. For example, the insights will show how to minimize waste, which routes reduce emissions, and where the bottlenecks are.
- Better preparedness. By processing big data, AI delivers information that can be used in accessing extreme weather events, developing better strategies, and understanding climate change. This reduces fallout and environmental damage.
Let’s take a look at this in action. UNEP launched the World Environment Situation Room in 2022. The digital platform utilizes AI’s ability to process overly complicated and large amounts of data. Through real-time analysis and prediction algorithms, the application delivers reliable information that can be used for important and urgent decision-making.
How can this development shape our future? When information becomes accessible, regardless of whether the reader is a data scientist or not, it has the potential to support a worldwide greener lifestyle. It could encourage the global networking of policymakers and business leaders, leading to innovative solutions, shared learning, and collective action.
Arguably, this platform is still in its early stages, but it holds a lot of promise. The hope is that it could become the “mission control center for planet Earth”. Eventually, this could improve preventative measures, the speed of actions taken, and accountability for the environment around us.
Making agriculture a viable industry
There’s no denying that farming is an important aspect of our society. It brings us food, fuels, raw materials, and fibers. Just because we rely heavily on an industry doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider the impact it has on our planet and figure out how to reduce this.
Workers enrich the soil and produce renewable energy in an attempt to do their bit. This has a massively positive impact, but environmentally-friendly farming needs to be a global concern. The operations still cause around 24-30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and we’re set to lose or pay extortionate prices for the resources we rely on today.
It might be difficult to imagine that rearing animals and growing crops could have anything in common with machines. But believe it or not, AI can do a lot to contribute to sustainable agriculture and support the valiant efforts of our conscious farmers.
Here’s how it’s all done.
- Robotics. This subset of AI and computer science enables autonomous equipment. The machines can do tasks such as planting, harvesting, and weed control with the precision of a human being. They are also often electric, which means they are more viable than traditional equipment powered by fossil fuels. The development of these machines also offers job opportunities, which is crucial for our future.
- Water management. AI-powered systems can monitor things like weather patterns and moisture levels in the soil to streamline irrigation schedules. When crops aren’t being overwatered, the resource can be better conserved.
- Reduced chemical waste. Robotic systems target specific areas by accurately seeking out pest infestations or areas of crops that require treatment. Risks of human error are greatly reduced as chemicals are only placed where they need to be. Environmental pollution and the harm to biodiversity are minimized.
- Assisted crop planning. AI algorithms will scout out information from datasets to recommend the best place and time to plant crops. This takes away the need for artificial substances and improves the quantity of good quality products.
Here’s an example of how the industry is embracing this use of AI. You’ve probably heard of self-driving cars, but what about a driverless tractor? Raven Industries achieved this with their OMNiDRIVE. From reduced grain spillage, to the upcycling of existing tractors, to perception systems that protect unharvested crops, this is one amazing piece of tech.
AI makes life easier for everyone. We now have the tools to unlock our full potential. For example, it could help us live more harmoniously with the environment and could preserve the ecological balance for generations to come, proofing us for whatever the future holds.
Encouraging more sustainable urban planning
Earlier we touched on the potential AI has to make all new homes sustainable. But what about the streets they sit on? The cities they’re built in? The traffic their owners have to drive in? Even if we minimize the impact at home, we also have to consider the land used.
In May this year, the average annual number of house starts was 1.631 million. While there are many positives to this development, the negatives are bad news for the planet. These homes are often built on greenfield sites – the undeveloped land of farms and natural habitats. As infrastructure pressure increases and cities become more populous, more traffic and fumes are generated.
There needs to be a way of supporting demand without taking away from the once-flourishing habitats and polluting the world around us. That’s where environmental urban planning and AI come in. This powerful combination works to meet both the growing population’s needs and sustainability goals. In other words, balancing the natural and unnatural.
Let’s take a look at what to expect, shall we?
- Public engagement. Through capabilities like virtual reality (VR), interactive digital platforms, and chatbots, the public becomes active learners and can participate in the urban planning process. This fosters innovation, feedback loops, and further support for environmental practices.
- Traffic and transportation planning. No one enjoys sitting in an unmoving car. What if we told you AI engineers have taught algorithms how to improve traffic flow and optimize public transportation routes to avoid congestion? Urban planning is also a perfect opportunity to build a stable electric car infrastructure.
- Scenario modeling. Programmers can create AI-powered simulation tools. Planners then use these to determine the results of multiple scenarios, both for the short-term and the long-term. Doing so finds the best solution to urban challenges and enables effective risk management.
- Making the most of land. AI can do a lot of things. A data analyst would be able to find correlations between land use and environmental impact, all while considering the environmental regulations flagged by the algorithms.
Let’s look at UrbanAI’s clever resource. The generative AI platform is used for planning and collaborative design. All you have to do is upload an image of an area you want to transform, add a description of what you want to see, and then boom! Multiple generated visuals with a built-in polling feature, so you can get opinions from anyone, easily.
The use of AI in urban planning is gaining momentum. If well utilized, this technology could promote the creation of more livable, resilient, and cleaner cities. This would be one of the biggest and most powerful steps towards a truly sustainable future.
With greener power comes more responsibility
These are all promising developments in creating a greener future. However, that doesn’t mean AI technology won’t have a negative impact too. For example, MIT reported that a single data center could consume an “amount of electricity equivalent to 50,000 homes”.
These concerns need to be addressed before any significant change is made. Leaders should remain educated, business owners need to seek out the cleanest solutions for their products, and guidelines such as Google’s “4M” should become a standard practice for all.
Regardless of your status in an industry, staying up-to-date on the trends and future of AI is the most effective way to empower change. Find everything you need at Top Apps.