The field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is flourishing thanks to large investments, and big companies with heavy ecological footprints can use it to make their activity more sustainable. This article focuses on multiple areas where AI can be helpful in achieving such goals.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, as we call it refers to the ability of any machine or computer to mimic human capabilities such as learning from examples and experience, recognizing objects, understanding and responding to language, making decisions, and solving problems. Combining these different capabilities, the machine can perform complex functions such as driving a car.

AI has gained popularity due to its successful deployment in applications that were once unthinkable —for instance, talking to Siri or Alexa to set up your calendar. Here are some illustrative examples of companies using AI to be more in line with a sustainable future. 

How AI Impacts Sustainable Development Goals

AI plays an important role in achieving not only environmental but all other Sustainable Development Goals- from ending hunger and poverty to achieving sustainable energy and gender equality to protecting and preserving biodiversity. The figures below illustrate the potential gains that can be realized in achieving SDG by adopting AI. 

There are a total of 17 Sustainable Development Goals as defined by the United Nations, that can be grouped under three pillars: Environment, Economy and Society. A study published in Nature Communications  looked at how the development of AI could enable many advances, while also hampering others. 

sustainable development goals AI

Figure1: Impact of AI on the achievement of each target from the Sustainable Development Goals. Source: Springer Nature Sustainability Community.

The takeaway is that, while AI provides unprecedented opportunities, these may not always result in a positive outcome depending on the framework in which they are used. For instance: a country with little ethical scrutiny, transparency and democratic measures could lead to AI enabling nationalism, discrimination and undemocratic election results. Better regulatory bodies need to be set up to oversee the development of AI, as its development will strongly influence the future of humanity.

AI to address Environmental Challenges: Opportunities

AI has the potential to accelerate global efforts to protect the environment and conserve resources by detecting energy emission reductions, CO2 removal, helping develop greener transportation networks, monitoring deforestation, and predicting extreme weather conditions. Below mentioned are examples of how AI provides means to tackle the most pressing environmental challenges.

sustainable development goals AI

Figure 3: Priority action areas for environmental challenges; Image Source: PwC

Climate Change

Biodiversity and Conservation

Ocean Health

Water Issues

Healthy Air

Weather forecast and Disaster resiliency

This article was written by Deeksha Chopra.

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References
Vinuesa, R., Azizpour, H., Leite, I. et al. The role of artificial intelligence in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Nat Commun 11, 233 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-14108-y
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