Can AI Save Humanity From Climate Change? That’s the Wrong Question

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Artificial intelligence is among the most poorly understood technologies of the modern era. To many, AI exists as both a tangible but ill-defined reality of the here and now and an unrealized dream of the future, a marvel of human ingenuity, as exciting as it is opaque.


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It’s this indistinct picture of both what the technology is and what it can do that might engender a look of uncertainty on someone’s face when asked the question, “Can AI solve climate change?” “Well,” we think, “it must be able to do something,” while entirely unsure of just how algorithms are meant to pull us back from the ecological brink.

Such ambivalence is understandable. The question is loaded, faulty in its assumptions, and more than a little misleading. It is a vital one, however, and the basic premise of utilizing one of the most powerful tools humanity has ever built to address the most existential threat it has ever faced is one that warrants our genuine attention.

Where climate change and machine learning meet

Machine learning — the subset of AI that allows for machines to learn from data without explicit programming — and climate change advocacy and action are relatively new bedfellows. Historically, a lack of collaboration between experts in the climate and computer sciences has resulted in a field of exploration that is still very much in its infancy.

Happily, recent years have seen the beginnings of a shift in that paradigm, with groups like Climate Informatics and the Computational Sustainability Network focusing on how computational techniques can be leveraged to advance sustainability goals.

Taking this notion a step further, a group of young experts in machine learning and public policy founded Climate Change AI in 2019, a non-profit that aims to improve community-building, facilitate research and impactful work, and advance the machine learning-climate change discourse.

“There have been different communities working on different aspects of this topic, but no one community unifying the discourse on AI and the many different approaches to climate action,” explained Priya Donti, co-founder and power and energy lead of CCAI in an interview with Interesting Engineering.

Climate Change AI has, in no uncertain terms, altered that landscape. In 2019, the group published a paper entitled “Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning,” a call-to-arms for the machine learning community that presented 13 areas — ranging from electricity systems and transportation to climate prediction and agriculture — where the technology might be best utilized. Dozens of experts in the machine learning, climate change, and policy communities contributed sections to the paper and well-known figures like Andrew Ng and Yoshua Bengio provided expert advice on the project as well. […]

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Source: SwissCognitive