What AI Can Do for Climate Change, and What Climate Change Can Do for AI

April 5, 2022
What AI Can Do for Climate Change, and What Climate Change Can Do for AI

To tackle the climate crisis, artificial intelligence is becoming more open and democratic, says HUCE Affiliate Wai Chee Dimock

By Wai Chee Dimock, Scientific American

The April 4, 2022 report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes it clear that it is “now or never” for the planet. We are “firmly on track toward an unlivable world,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in releasing the report. There’s every chance that global temperatures will soar by 3 degrees Celsius, twice as much as the agreed-upon 1.5 C limit. Unless we take drastic steps and cut down emissions by 43 percent within this decade, the full force of this existential threat will be upon us.

In this context, it is interesting that some researchers have taken artificial intelligence—a technology often considered an existential threat in its own right–and tried to turn it into a vehicle for climate action. Since I’m writing a book on nonhuman actors in the 21st century, I have a more-than-passing interest in how these experiments turn out and what they say about our collective future. Could it be that climate change is the catalyst that transforms AI, challenging it to be more crisis-responsive, more focused on innovations addressing large-scale hazards? Such technology could be just what we need at this juncture. It could generate emergency action very different from the profit-driven, bias-amplifying and misinformation-spreading algorithmic regime we are familiar with. Giving much larger play to input from the field, from networks of engaged participants, this “climate AI” could be a game changer in the tech ecosystem, as in the physical ecosystems now facing their worst risks.

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