Can AI save the planet?
14 August 2019

It's no secret that our lives, work and world are being digitally transformed. But what does this mean for the planet? And what role can AI play in making the world safer, cleaner, happier and healthier?

Industry 4.0 is here. Digital transformation is imperative and artificial intelligence is fast becoming one of the primary tools in the belt to propel it forward. But the questions remains - what role can and will AI play in impacting the sustainability of the planet?

As AI becomes one of our greatest assets, it’s no surprise we're now asking what big problems it can solve for us — like the problem of protecting our natural environment.

Through our work in the world of Industrial AI we've seen a variety of cases where it will certainly help to do so.

Prevent shutdowns, reduce flaring

Gas flaring is a known, studied and impactful practice. With every shutdown, turnaround and outage, that an oil and gas company must succumb to, the risks abound. Not only does it take a significant toll on worker health and safety, the environmental damage is palpable. Using AI technology to predict and prevent asset and plant failure in the energy industry can and does play a major role in reducing the need for gas flaring. By pre-emptively identifying asset issues and potential failures before they cause an unplanned, costly, risky and environmentally damaging shutdown, major improvements can be made to the amount and duration of flaring required.

Increase asset lifespan, reduce waste and resources

Industrial AI has the benefit of being able to ingest and synthesize billions of data points and create complex correlations. Predictive analytics platforms have the power to identify sub-optimal practices that are  causing far more wear and tear than required and the ability to make recommendations about levels, speeds, loads and timing that can all have a significant impact for:

  • Spares inventory
  • Part replacement times
  • Reduced asset lifespan

By reducing wear and tear, AI technology that focuses on process optimisation can massively improve recourse consumption and in turn, reduce waste. 

Create smart, connected cities

By connecting entire cities and regions, AI has the potential to automate and vastly improve how cities function as holistic entities. From automating pump stations to managing water consumption, traffic and lighting, IoT, Big Data and AI have to "play a major role in coordinating the economy, environment and  social and culture factors, and thus achieving sustainability in a smart manner." This concept of an "urban dashboard” that can improve and increase sustainability in intelligent cities is a growing field of interest and once that AI certainly has the power to impact.

More harm than good

Of course no technology comes without potential pitfalls. One of the key questions that AI raises is 'will it do more harm than good?'. An interesting example of this is the prediction (backed by some credible studies) that the environmental benefits from self-driving cars may not be as impressive as we'd like to believe, on the basis that the lack of effort (i.e. the need to personally drive) may result in more car trips, and therefore increased emissions!

So, can AI save the planet?

The truthful answer is that the jury is still out. It has a huge amount of potential to decrease emission and environmental impacts, but like most technological advances, the onset of artificial intelligence poses many opportunities and equally as many risks. Indeed all we can do is continue to use it for the benefit of as many humans as possible, without ever forgetting the need to preserve and protect the planet we call home.

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