Over the last few years, we have seen groundbreaking developments in artificial intelligence (AI). This year alone, we have already witnessed major breakthroughs in generative AI, with the exponential rise of OpenAI’s ChatGPT as a potent example. The speed at which AI has become common practice in multiple facets of daily life is astonishing, demonstrating the immense potential that exists in the realm of AI. Yet, simultaneously, headlines warning of the dangers surrounding the rise of AI are dominating the news, causing genuine concern about its potential consequences and effects. Experts are warning of the dangers of AI and even calling for a halt in AI research. Despite the gloomy predictions and conversations surrounding AI, is there any possibility for it to do good?
According to the World Economic Forum, around 90% of scientists predict that ‘AI transformation, one of the biggest shifts in humanity’s history, could happen within the next 100 years.’ Thus, there is no denying that AI is on the rise, and is fundamentally shifting the way the world operates, whether we like it or not. The speed and unregulated pace at which it has developed has sparked debates surrounding how ethical it is, and rightfully so. Some of the major dangers associated with AI are the rise of misinformation in terms of deep fakes and other manipulated content, privacy and security concerns, discrimination and bias, and ultimately the potential for AI to become more intelligent than human beings.
The fact that these developments are already gathering speed without much regulation in place is worrying, which has led to outcry from some of the leading experts in the field. These concerns have now spurred several countries and entities to begin looking into AI regulation and despite different views and approaches on what exactly regulation should look like, the recognition of the need for it is there - the main question is how it can be effectively carried out. At the start of November 2023, the United Kingdom will be hosting ‘the world's first global artificial intelligence (AI) safety summit’, which will address some of the concerns mentioned.
Despite the many dangers surrounding the rise of AI, which need to be taken into account, AI also has the potential to solve some of the most pressing issues facing humanity today, including in the medical field and even in the fight against climate change. The AI for the Planet Alliance / Boston Consulting Group 2022 Report lays out the ways in which AI ‘can be a powerful tool in the fight against climate change’. The three areas of application mentioned in the report are mitigation; adaptation and resilience; and fundamentals. Mitigation includes using AI to, for example, measure, reduce and remove emissions; adaptation and resilience includes using AI to, for example, predict extreme weather events to then develop adaptable infrastructure; and lastly, fundamentals include using AI to help with climate modelling or encourage behaviour change, amongst other things.
Several of the technologies mentioned already exist or are in the works. In a blog post by the United Nations’ AI for Good programme, some AI-powered climate change solutions are highlighted, demonstrating the enormous potential and hope there is to use AI to address environmental issues. For example, Ocean Cleanup is using an AI object detection algorithm to provide precise detections of plastics in the ocean, thereby making cleanups more targeted and easier. Further examples are an AI-driven wildfire prediction model developed by Kettle, which can prevent them from spreading and IBM’s use of AI to improve energy efficiency in data centres. Thus, as demonstrated by these examples and several more, AI has a lot of potential to help us with both climate change mitigation and adaptation, and should therefore be central in discussions surrounding green transitions.
It is evident that artificial intelligence itself cannot single-handedly solve the climate crisis. There is much that needs to be done outside of developing AI climate solutions, but there is no question that it has the potential to be used as a tool within the fight against climate change. What is important in conversations about AI is bolstering its use for positive developments, such as in the medical and environmental fields, but ensuring there are regulations in place that prevent the dangers associated with it from becoming widespread and inconsequential. The question remains on how this will be possible with different national approaches and the speed of regulation implementation vs. rapid technological developments. Similarly, as with the emergence of the internet, it is harder to regulate technology as it transcends borders. Still, these conversations are important and necessary. Nonetheless, the developments of AI climate solutions already hint at some positive potential.
Written by Lily Meckel
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