This article is part of the annual cycle of reflection on technology, business, and sustainability organized by the Nova SBE Digital Experience Lab. It takes place during the month dedicated to Artificial Intelligence, during which we are focusing on the impact that cybersecurity has on businesses, society, and our future. Join us on the 14th to understand how AI is generated and on the 22nd to discuss its use cases in the real business world.
Nowadays, it is almost impossible to find someone who has never heard about AI. However, not everyone knows what AI is and there are misunderstandings about its applications. AI refers to the development of computational systems designed to complete tasks that normally rely on human intelligence to perform. AI is a broad field that includes a range of techniques and technologies, including machine learning, natural language processing (NPL), computer vision, and robotics. AI has many practical applications in a variety of areas, such as healthcare, transportation, finance, and more. It is also becoming increasingly important in addressing global challenges such as climate change and sustainability.
In the last decade, AI has gained an enormous popularity due to its successful use in applications that were once unthinkable. In this article it will be discussed how AI can contribute to help organizations to reduce their ecological footprints and to be more in line with a sustainable future. On the other hand, to reflect about the impact of AI itself on CO2 emissions.
The identification of areas where AI can play an important role towards the ecological sustainability of the planet is a straightforward task. For instance, AI can be used:
1. to optimize energy consumption of buildings and other infrastructures by adjusting the temperature of the building to ensure optimal comfort but at the same time minimizing energy consumption
2. to help with waste management, namely, to sort and recycle waste more efficiently, reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills
3. to facilitate sustainable agriculture by optimizing crop yields, reducing the pesticide use and minimizing water consumption
4. to optimize the integration of renewable energy sources into power grids, improving their reliability and efficiency
5. to optimize traffic flow, reduce fuel consumption, and improve the efficiency of transportation networks.
It is undisputed that AI plays and will continue to play a crucial role in our daily routines, and environmental challenges are no different. However, when we think about AI, we would not imagine how large its carbon footprint is. AI-based systems are extremely computational expense. To process all data involved requires the extensively use of servers and computers, contributing heavily to an increase of energy use. According to a study of University of Massachusetts in 2019, training AI models to do NLP, can produce the carbon dioxide equivalent of 300 round-trip flights between San Francisco and New York. This should be a red flag to all companies that use AI in their operations. The impact of AI on CO2 emissions should also be considered in the decision-making process.
Fortunately, there are many companies and organizations that are already using AI in innovative ways to address environmental challenges. Some examples are:
1. Google is using AI to optimize the efficiency of its data centers, which account for a significant portion of the company's energy consumption. The company is also investing in renewable energy sources and using AI to improve the integration of renewable energy into the power grid
2. Microsoft has set a goal to be carbon negative by 2030, and the company is using AI to help achieve that goal. One example is Project Natick, a research project that involves placing data centers underwater, where they can be powered by renewable energy sources
3. IBM is using AI to help cities reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions. The company's Green Horizons initiative uses AI to analyze weather patterns and energy usage data to help cities optimize their energy consumption and reduce their environmental impact
4. Siemens is using AI to optimize the efficiency of its wind turbines, which are a key component of renewable energy systems. By using AI to predict wind patterns and optimize turbine operation, Siemens is able to generate more energy from each turbine and reduce its environmental impact
5. Amazon is using AI to optimize the delivery of packages, which can help reduce the company's carbon footprint by reducing the number of delivery vehicles on the road. The company is also investing in renewable energy sources and has set a goal to be net-zero carbon by 2040
To achieve a sustainable future with the help of AI, it is important to think long-term. This means considering the long-term environmental impact of AI solutions and ensuring that they are designed to be sustainable and scalable over time. It is important that governments, companies, and individuals work together to develop and implement sustainable AI solutions in a responsible and transparent manner ensuring that it is used to benefit society as a whole. Only taking a holistic approach to sustainability and incorporating AI in responsible and thoughtful ways, we can work towards a more sustainable and equitable world.