AI for Good is already here

How Tech can improve energy efficiency, including its own

As a 2020 McKinsey paper demonstrates, technology such AI, analytics, connectivity, VR, robotics, internet of things - sectors responsable for an estimated 8% of global energy consumption (although the wider picture might raise that figure) - actually have an important role to play in the improved energy efficiency of human activity. Clean tech, robotics, quantum science, data & AI and the Internet of Things have the strongest potential in facing the challenge.

The report - which weighs up the pros and cons of technology in the areas of job security, material living standards, education, health and equal opportunities - explores the potential of technology in solving the current climate challenge.

Likewise, ITU's "AI for Good" series, including an interview with Microsoft's Chief Environmental Officer, Dr Lucas Jappa, who leads the development and execution of Microsoft's sustainability strategy, analyzes positive impact opportunities of various AI initiatives.

The below is a list of concrete examples to demonstrate the positive impact potential of technology:

Urban flow: AI-based traffic management in cities, including optimizing traffic light networks to improve the flow of cars and trucks, can reduce the impact of air pollution on health by between 3 and 15 percent.

Smart Grid Technology: Electrics utilities have potential to employ smart grid technology to optimize system efficiency by 12-21 %, or €255 billion to $440 billion, in the period 2015 to 2035.

Conservation: Using satellite imagery and AI technology, Silvia Terra has developed base-map of every hectare of forest carbon in the USA to power NCAPX, an innovative brand of data-driven "carbon marketplace" system.

"Going beyond the price of timber, the Silvia Terra marketplace allows us to place a price on the true value of forests: their ability to sequester carbon."

Similarly, AI-powered drones can help monitor wildlife parks and identify the location of poachers, and similarly monitor for illegal fishing, for example.

iNaturalist: a social network for sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. As Dr Joppa highlights, the app enables human-machine interaction, in a circular process of integrating machine learning to continue to build a bigger community. The amateur nature of the application has allowed for a larger amount of data on nature than any currently existing government dataset.

Smart Building Technologies: optimization of energy consumption by activating/ deactivating lights, HVAC systems and any appliances thanks to communication with other devices such as smart windows or presence detectors, automatically and in real time, or if needed, remotely. Secondly, occupancy indicators enable better use of unused space for improved energy efficiency.

Data Centers: while Google's DeepMind has started to improve the efficiency of data centers, Data & AI, connectivity enabling circular economy systems, quantum chips and immersion cooling systems such as Immersion4 are part of the many solutions to overseeing the ecological transition of the digital sector.

The potential of technology to be part of the solutions is furthermore revealing itself as numerous venture capital firms such as Future Positive Capital (Paris), 50 Years (San Francisco), Voima Ventures (Finland), Beable Capital (Madrid) and Sofinnova Partners (Paris) focus their investments on paradigm-changing technology ventures, in the belief that science-driven innovation and value-adding capital are a winning combination.

Governments can be instrumental in ensuring that technology transitions are well-managed and in enabling innovative development and usage of technological innovations. Likewise, corporate leaders will need to be convinced of enlightened business: the argument that proactive management of ecological transitions is not only in the wider interest, but also a smart business move.

Up-and-coming modern economies with the resources to invest massively in eco-friendly systems have the advantage of starting certain urban projects from scratch, thus enabling them to fully integrate eco-conscious planning into the urban infrastructure.

A notable example is the vision-stage city of Neom, planned by the government of Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea coast as a smart city, reducing inefficient use of energy through AI and automation. Furthermore, certain public expenditure projects such as the proposed European Union subsidies will favor the strategic use of technology through subsidized programs and start-up grants.

Source: Ai for Good (ITU & XPrize), McKinsey, Third Derivative