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  • Jeremy J. Wade

Can Artificial Intelligence Help Us Combat Climate Change?

Building machines to replace human muscle power has long been a much welcomed development. But what about machines that begin replacing human brain power? While maybe unsettling, artificial intelligence has recently made extraordinary progress doing just that that.


In 2016, tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft launched dozens of products and services powered by artificial intelligence. Existing products like Apple’s Siri and Google Translate have started making immeasurable advances. The updated Google Translate product, for instance, made an improvement overnight that was roughly equal to the total gains the old one had accrued over its entire lifetime. It even created it’s own new language.


This trend has led to increasing literature on the impact artificial intelligence may have on everything from jobs, education, to religion in the coming decades.



Joi Ito, Scott Dadich, and President Barack Obama discussing AI

The long-term and societal implications of this new technology were discussed in a conversation between President Obama and MIT’s Joi Ito (covered by Wired magazine). Obama indicated an optimism that, historically, new technologies are absorbed, new jobs are created and ultimately living standards go up. For Ito, the speed of progress might impact society sooner that we think and that we need people who want to use AI for good.

“What’s important is to find the people who want to use the AI for good — communities and leaders — and figure out how to help them.” — Joi Ito

We can find leaders and communities of the mold Ito refers to. One such leader is Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu Research and co-founder of Coursera. Coursera is a global platform to provide universal access to the world’s best education. Ng has made the point that AI researchers (like himself) “have an ethical responsibility to step up and address the problems we cause.” For Ng, who also founded the Google Brain project in 2011, Coursera was his personal step to do that.


Another example is the OpenAI community, a non-profit artificial intelligence initiative with the mission to build safe AI, and ensure AI’s benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible. OpenAI has been associated with technology visionary, Elon Musk and Y Combinator’s president, Sam Altman. They have recently released Universe, a platform that will let AI programs learn, through experimentation and positive reward, how to do all sorts of things on a computer.


Climate Scientists Powered by AI?


Climate change is arguably the most severe challenge facing humankind. How might we harness AI to help us tackle this complex problem? One growing challenge in the face of progress on climate change research is the 21st century science overload. There is currently as many as 50 million research papers currently in existence, and more than 3,000 new papers published every day. How can anyone wrap their mind around that complexity of this growing volume scientific research?


This is a problem artificial intelligence may be able to help with. IRIS.ai has a big vision to use AI to create scientific research assistants capable of reading this ever growing volume of research. But even more impressive: actually forming and testing new hypotheses.


Co-founder of IRIS.ai, Schjøll Brede, argues that humans need increasingly smarter, machine-assisted ways to navigate the ever-growing mountain of scientific knowledge, and to help researchers keep pace and come up with new and better theories and ideas. Brede when asked on the stage of TechCrunch’s Disrupt London had this to say,

Q: What’s your vision? How does mankind, the world benefit from Iris?
A: Let’s say that we give Iris 1,000 papers around a specific challenge around climate change. She can read that, she goes ‘okay, I’m going to have to read these things and these things too’. She’ll come up with a hypothesis… and then she’ll be connected to a simulation environment, where she can take the experiments, run there and actually test it out. And publish the result — whether the results are positive or negative.


Also from the stage, Brede announced IRIS.ai’s partnership with several organizations to host ‘scithons’ (science hackathons). According to Brede, the goal with a scithon is to bring together “20, 30, or 40 really smart, really driven talent from a variety of different backgrounds, and we get them together with a company partner that has a scientific challenge to solve.”


At JSiE, a social innovation lab in North India, we are excited help organize one of the first scithons in Delhi in 2017 focused on combating climate change through sustainable energy.


To learn more about JSiE and get in touch with about this scithon, go here.

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