Artificial intelligence: is it green?

Jun 1, 2017 | News

By <a href="" target="_self">George Catchpole</a>

By George Catchpole

Marketing Manager

We’re told that AI and machine learning are going to revolutionise industry and threaten our jobs. But is AI green and how sustainable is it? Quora Consulting’s John Blackwell takes a closer look.

All around us today people talk and write about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning and how they are multiplying our productivity, revolutionising our industry and threatening our jobs. This debate is set to long continue as AI and robotics progressively take over programmable repetitive tasks and jobs across the spectrum. But is AI green, is it sustainable? Surely, on the face of it, it appears to threaten the fragile nature of our environment to allow robotics free reign over our fragile earth. And what about our carefully nurtured environmentally friendly sustainable industries?

Here is a short review of some of the latest developments in AI and machine learning, showing how they are being applied. We then need to scrutinise our own views on their merits and applications. With over 90% of the world’s data having been produced within the last five years, there’s huge untapped opportunities for machine learning to support human endeavour by learning directly from examples and experience in the form of data Are they helping to make our living and working practices more sustainable and ‘Green’?

Where is AI today?


Picture: Daimler and Bosch have just announced they are teaming to offer driverless taxis in the U.S. and Germany within six years.

– Automated Vehicles – The much-vaunted arrival of Automated Vehicles (AV) has been viewed from various perspectives. Many consider the automation of cars as a threat to jobs, some view AV as a step in the right direction towards the preservation of life. We know that 90% of vehicle accidents occur because of human error. AVs will be able to react through sensors to instant signs of danger where a human may be distracted by any emotions experienced while driving or indeed other factors. AI and machine learning in an AV will enable it to react precisely according to the demands of the situation.

Another step in the right direction for sustainability and green credentials of AV is the approach of electric automated vehicles examples of AI and machine learning in pragmatic sustainable application. Preservation of both life and fossil fuels will count as a major benefit and innovation in sustainability.

– Living and working spaces participate – It is already being said that our living and working spaces will begin to participate in our lives, helping us as individuals to personally optimise the effectiveness of our environments. The built environment will be a system of AI evolution and machine learning integrating with architectural aesthetics and utilitarian function of protecting you from the elements. We already see ‘Sensor lighting’, heating, intelligent supply of goods and supplies with machine learning ability. We can build more interactive physical environments that can include biophilic design with green spaces to optimise our sense of well-being even in urban offices where concrete reigns. Employees will be able to tune their work environments in response to their Circadian Rhythm through optimal use of lighting, temperature, humidity, noise, and even biometric measures in personalised workspaces. This could be a great step forward towards AI as sustainability through effective and optimal human well-being in working and living environments.

– Buildings working smarter not harder – Viewed on a macro scale, smart buildings and the smart cities in which they are built can leverage built-in sensors to use energy efficiently, and buildings and roads will also be constructed out of materials that work more intelligently. Taking a nod from natural patterns, material scientists and architects have developed all manner of building materials from natural resources – latterly we have seen bricks made of bacteria, cement that captures carbon dioxide, and building cooling systems that use nothing but the available wind and sun. Solar power is increasingly present within cities and outside to supply larger conurbations. These are the first early steps towards sustainable infrastructure cutting costs and helping to make us environmentally conscious.

– Precision medicine and Big Data driving health – New forms of healthcare are emerging with the help of AI, machine learning and Big Data. From applications of machine learning to the assessment of hundreds of thousands of cancerous biopsy samples to help determine patterns for early identification through to highly personalised applications of medical treatments. Though still emerging the applications of AI to medicine is in evidence for good. Thanks to the development of precision molecular tools based on data and algorithms. Doctors are being trained to have different conversations with their patients to better understand their social, environmental, and economic contexts when diagnosing and treating illness. The British Medical Council has stated that the combination of global intelligence sharing networks and machine learning will mean that all cancers will be treatable within the next decade. Precision medicine changes the focus of health and medical efforts from identifying symptoms, to understanding and treating the mechanisms of disease. It also focuses on environmental and social determinants of health like your post code.

– Cellular agriculture and synthetic food – With a growing need for global initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fight climate change and evolve cruelty free foods, the race is on to define the future of human protein consumption, possibly without involving any animals in the process. How is AI evident in these developments? Tech and AI have been instrumental in the development of new methods of food production helping in the development processes for two distinct product categories. These are now taking shape with the promise of future sustainable sources of food:

  • Plant based proteins are extracted, re-engineered and re-purposed for products that simulate a meat-like experience.
  • Technology breakthroughs in tissue engineering and synthetic biology implemented grow food like meat, eggs and dairy in laboratory conditions.

– Blue ocean strategy – farming the sea – As the world population continues to grow, currently estimated by the United Nations at 7.5 billion, we need to think broadly about how to generate foods and cultivate more from already depleted land and freshwater sources. The oceans certainly offer alternative solutions that will be sustainable. For example, it is believed that the cultivation and farming of kelp, bivalves and open water cultivation of fish will enable us to generate vast amounts of food without using arable land, water or pesticides.

Farming in the sea is less physically restricted in than using land, it extends down to the bottom of the ocean – these are enormous opportunities for sustainable farming. AI and machine learning will be needed to identify the optimal locations for such farms and manage their food production without impacting negatively on the environment.

– Making Ocean fisheries sustainable – In recent years, the fears of overfishing the oceans have sadly become a reality. Whether dragnet or long-line fishing restrictions are in place, and even when monitored by national authorities with tight limits to fishing certain stocks in particular regions the oceans are being over fished. In the US, sustainable fisheries employ human monitors to watch what is being taken from the sea. In the Pacific Ocean from Indonesia, the Philippines to Hawaii where most of the world’s tuna harvest is derived, only 2% of fishing operations are monitored. This leaves valuable fish stocks vulnerable to over fishing and over-exploitation.

One option is to create automated monitoring tools (i.e. Satlink high definition monitoring cameras) to have on board all legal vessels. The film can then be viewed, GPS coordinates monitored and facial recognition matched with listed fishermen through connections with AI social media. GPS systems can record everything that happens on deck allowing government and industry authorities to accurately manage what species are being fished.

The debate around the benefits of AI and machine learning applications will continue while tech is developing and new initiatives arise. Suffice it to say there are many current initiatives made possible only through these new innovations that make AI a force for good if applied with sustainable motives.

To debate these and other AI and machine learning issues, attend the Quora Consulting Smart working Summit 7 June 2017 in London.