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How AI Can Provide A Sustainable Future 

Whether time isn’t on our side or human error is too great a factor, artificial intelligence (AI) can be a great addition to our lives. Applied already in many forms within many industries, global focus is ever shifting toward sustainability. So how can AI provide a sustainable future?


As we know the protection of the natural world is essential to a sustainable future as it provides socioeconomic and health benefits, as well as national and food security. That is why, as with many modern advances, artificial intelligence has worked its way into various conservation efforts around the globe.

Innovation in the field of AI has led to faster working, more intelligent algorithms able to sift through huge data sets. An example of this is the app eBird, designed to determine patterns in bird sightings recorded by users. The AI was then able to collate this and produce detailed maps demonstrating population variation and migration routes. This shared effort of citizen science and AI identified trends more accurately and could predict future distributions of birds, highlighting which areas the birds’ prefer and therefore need protecting. This data is extremely valuable therefore to governments and conservationists alike.

As of April last year the eBird app had clocked the equivalent of 22million hours of field work.

By Adrian Baer (Provided by Photographer to Devanthro Society) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsData Collection

Aside from valuable biosurveillance, AI is being used in the collection and sifting through of climate science data sets. In conjunction to pre-existing data, the combined efforts of humans and AI results in more raw data collected and trends being identified faster.

One such effort is EarthCube, a project dedicated to creating a functioning 3D model of the Earth with highly detailed models of the individual elements which dictate our environment; geological processes and natural disasters; the currents and temperature of air and oceans; hydrological systems; atmospheric conditions; the advancement of climate change.

This project uses AI on two fronts; one, in the collection, collation and prediction of events within their respective elements; and two, to predict how two or more separate elements will interact with each other, for instance how groundwater would react in response to increasing global temperature.

Once fully functional EathCube could potentially be able to present accurate climate change projections and even predict earthquakes.

By David Brodbeck from Seattle, WA, USA (Grand Coulee Dam spillway) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsEfficiency

A Smart Grid is the implementation of AI into an energy grid using an algorithm to recognise when and where energy is needed. Innovation with renewable energy storage is the new frontier of securing a sustainable future, but until then smart grids would be vital to mitigating the loss of energy via transmission and distribution.

Similarly to smart grids AI could be used to maximise efficiency of transport and other public services; even in personal transport. Artificial intelligence in cars could improve fuel efficiency, and once all cars become electric the AI could focus on reducing accidents and congestion.

Another example of maximising efficiency is the use of AI in the recycling process. Sorting through recyclable refuse is very time consuming as a human, let alone dangerous, and even where there are sorting machines in place they rely on codes entered by humans. Thus mistakes are made due to human error and, in the machine’s case, difficult to define materials and/or colours.

The first refuse sorting robot powered by AI was the ZenRobotics Recycler, capable of sorting 4000 pieces every hour. With this new robot time efficiency was significantly improved, as well as reclamation of valuable resources and reduction in cross contamination. In 2014 £3.8billion worth of resources was put into landfill in the UK. Losses like these can be avoided with the sophisticated learning of AI, boosting the economy with reclaimed resources and lowering national emissions through increased recycling overall.  


By Thomas Phillips - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

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