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How Artificial Intelligence is helping sustainable business

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more significant in business sustainability. And its influence is only likely to increase. Here we examine some uses of AI, and where artificial intelligence can help your move to corporate sustainability …

The AI Market

The AI market is set to grow 24.5% between 2019 and 2027, to more than 5 billion dollars (US), driven by a rapid increase in automation and the Internet of Things (IoT). 

Market size, artificial intelligence.

AI is already a significant part of our lives, offering unlimited possibilities to help manage the transition to sustainable business.

Here are some key ways AI is making inroads into business sustainability …

Uses of AI – What’s it good for?

A good way to understand AI is to look at how it is being used, and which industries use it. Here are some uses of AI:

  • Finance – security profiling (“does this purchase look unusual?”)
  • Agriculture – robots that can identify weeds and even pick them
  • Healthcare – programs that diagnose illnesses
  • Advertising/PR – targeting of ads/posts/articles
  • Music – machines that can compose songs or write symphonies
  • Gaming – programs that play chess
  • Search engines such as Google
  • Speech recognition – eg Alexa
  • Self-driving cars – combining computers and cameras to navigate a safe journey

The list goes on. 

Social media companies like LinkedIn and Facebook use AI algorithms to identify your interests. Then blast you with advertising. Nothing’s secret once you’re on Social Media.

Smarter Cities

Uses of AI include companies like NowWireless, which uses AI to help produce smart, energy-efficient cities of the future. NowWireless ‘green wave’ technology uses AI, mobile app, Bluetooth and CCTV input to provide vehicles with continuous green traffic lights, so reducing pollution.

AI is now commonly used in planning of "smart" cities.

AI logic mimics human learning and problem-solving. It usually does this by examining  vast quantities of data (ie ‘big’ data) and looking for patterns. Face-recognition software and medical diagnosis algorithms are good examples of this. 

AI and UN Sustainable Development Goals

Of the 169 targets in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 134 could benefit from artificial intelligence, according to an article in Nature magazine. These include: 

Greenhouse gas emissions

A report from PwC UK (How AI can enable a sustainable future) states that greater use of AI could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 4% by 2030, equivalent to around 2.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Biodiversity

Drones and data collection by local communities make use of AI to help monitor and protect biodiversity. Technology startup NatureServe is leveraging ArcGIS tools from Esri and Microsoft cloud computing to generate high-resolution habitat maps for endangered species – providing critical information for conservation action.

Neural networks and objective-oriented techniques can improve classification of vegetation cover types based on satellite images and help identify desertification trends over large area to improve decision-making and reverse trends by identifying the major drivers. 

Energy usage

Uses of AI in achieving UN sustainable development goals.

Technology already available could reduce US energy usage by 12 to 22 percent, according to The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI). Solar power companies use AI and machine learning to predict vulnerabilities in the solar grid and strengthen them, restoring power when failures occur.

Uses of AI for sustainable business

Fields where AI is making inroads into sustainable business include agriculture, energy, finance and electronic waste (e-waste).

Agriculture

AI systems interact directly with crops to identify the best times to plant, spray, and harvest, so decreasing the need for harmful fertilisers and pesticides.

Microsoft’s Azure Farmbeats enables the use of AI and machine learning to reduce costs, improve yields and create more sustainable agriculture. AI can improve plant disease control, erosion monitoring, species identification, and animal migration tracking according to a World Economic Forum report. Other possible benefits include maps of farm condition, vegetation and water indexes and soil moisture assessment.

Energy efficiency

Numerous startups are developing AI for energy efficiency. Google claims its DeepMind technology has reduced its data centre bill by 40%.

Finance and insurance

Aside from tracking and managing fraud, banks and insurance companies use AI extensively to make smarter decisions. Zestfinance allows lenders and underwriters to avoid bias in decisions – for example with respect to student loans and other factors affecting traditional credit scores – and so limit risks including litigation.

UN sustainable development goals.

Electronic waste (e-waste) 

AMP Robotics use AMP Cortex™ to identify, sort and pick tiny particles of valuable minerals to maximise recovery of e-waste. The robots are also used in sorting for the recycling of plastics, cartons, paper, cardboard, metals, and other materials (see my article on e-waste).

Issues And Concerns Around AI

As might be expected a number of concerns have been raised relating to the use of Artificial Intelligence. These centre around: 

Automated Bias – for example making credit decisions based on patterns found in data relating to race, gender or age. Undiagnosed bias in such algorithms could expose the company to legal claims.

Privacy and Security – Concerns around IoT around privacy and security have led to industry and governmental moves to address these concerns.

Excessive Costs – the risk that sustainability benefits, for example efficiency savings may not materialise, or may be offset by other consequences of AI. Self-driving cars, for example, may lead to more journeys, leading to increases in emissions. 

Lack of human interaction – expressed for example as less jobs for people or too little consideration of human insights, leading to poor decision-making.

Excessive energy consumption – largely resulting from using the wrong data.

Summary

There are many uses of artificial intelligence which directly impact business sustainability. Artificial Intelligence is an exciting field which offers huge potential for the future. But it needs to be implemented with proper concern for people, energy resources and security. And we’re likely to hear a lot more about it in the future.

You might also like: How AI can help the beach plastic clean-up

Clive Margolis

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