The WWF appraisal outlines the ecological state of our planet every two years. In an area where environmental warnings are often written off as scare-mongering, some figures might be helpful: 60 percent of all animal species have disappeared over the last 50 years. In the same period, the rainforests have shrunk by 20 percent. 90 percent of sea birds have plastic waste in their stomachs. And we’re heading for global warming of between three and four degrees centigrade. The worldwide costs of all environmental damage are estimated to be over 6,000 billion euros. That’s more than 11 percent of global GDP.
During the earth’s 4.5-billion-year history there has never been such a rapid human impact on the environment – primarily due to uncontrolled economic growth which takes no account of the planet’s needs.
At the moment we’re behaving as though we had the resources of 1.7 planets available to us every year. Or to put it another way, it means that we have used up the earth’s entire resources by the 1st of August each year. Can innovative technology – if it is sustainably used – turn things round?
THE SITUATION HAS NEVER BEEN AS FAVOURABLE FOR NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND SOLUTIONS AS IT IS RIGHT NOW
The new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro has announced that he wants to clear more of the rainforest for road-building, industrialisation and the cattle industry – despite the fact that climate change and environmental destruction have become the biggest threat to the whole global economy.
Is mankind actually capable of adopting a different approach to the one that’s been used up to now? A current study by PwC and the World Economic Forum (WEF) aims to find out by using new technologies to rectify technological blunders. Artificial intelligence plays a leading role in this field. Many far-sighted people believe that it can facilitate the energy revolution, get to grips with environmental pollution, and maintain biodiversity.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE BECOMES CLIMATE INTELLIGENCE
How is this possible, and above all in which areas can artificial intelligence (AI) become ‘climate intelligence’? The field is wide-ranging: AI can predict meteorological disasters and natural catastrophes, and it can analyse them and develop response strategies. AI can make towns and villages more efficient in their use of energy. Smart energy grids and the distribution and the storage of renewable energy are also a key issue. And geodata and satellite data make it possible to monitor and manage environmental systems with a new level of precision and speed.
The potential of AI is almost limitless. Did you know that 92 percent of the world’s population lives in areas which do not meet the clean air standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO)? To tackle this problem AI can help to regulate traffic levels by providing forecasts of smog and similar conditions and by using smart mobility guidance systems. And the idea of getting into an autonomous electric vehicle or even of forming car pools is a promising one, not only in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
IT’S NOT A CASE OF MORE, BUT OF BETTER
In order to feed the world the UN reckons that current levels of food production will have to be increased by 70 percent by 2050. But just increasing production also increases environmental destruction, which then leads to more dependency, poverty and hunger. “Farm View” is an American initiative which aims to improve agricultural yields with the help of AI. Research is currently under way into a variety of millet known as “sorghum”. The plant has 40,000 different seed varieties and therefore has huge potential.
The search is on for a perfect combination of seeds. The selective observation, evaluation and combination of the various characteristics of seeds would be a task which would take mankind hundreds of years to accomplish by itself.
AI and robotics are used to quickly find the most resistant sorghum mixture for specific developing countries, such as India, Nigeria or Ethiopia. This means that crop failures can be avoided and harvest yields can be increased.
A SWISS ROBOT IS PUTTING PESTICIDE PRODUCERS IN A BAD MOOD
A small Swiss company is making the giants tremble. Equipped with cameras, robotic arms and artificial intelligence, the solar-powered EcoRobotix works a twelve-hour shift with no complaints. It only sprays herbicides where they are needed, in other words on the weeds rather than the plants. It consequently
uses 20 times less herbicide than the conventional method which shrouds whole fields in a fog of spray.
New technologies are increasingly finding their way into agriculture.
THE QUANTUM LEAP INTO THE FUTURE: QUANTUM COMPUTERS
The quantum computers are coming. Google is leading the world, China is spending billions to catch up, and even the EU is investing in the “super brain”. But what’s new about quantum computers compared to existing super computers?
To put it simply, a normal computer calculates each step in turn, and its ‘bits’ dutifully store the results. However, the laws of quantum physics make the “step by step” process redundant. The busy qubits
within quantum computers can simultaneously store huge quantities of data. This enables chemical processes, for instance, to be better mapped. But what’s the benefit for us? – How about the prospect of chemical reactions which use less energy and therefore make more environmentally-friendly catalysts possible?
Or how about the development of organic solar cells? Or optimising the use of materials in order to save resources? Or the use of new findings in the development of personalised medicines?
A GOOD TEAM: THE HUMAN SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY & ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
There are hundreds of ways in which AI can be used for the good of the planet, and no doubt just as many ways in which it can be used to harm it. Let’s break out of our comfort zone and try new approaches. We have to use the new technology now where it makes sense to do so rather than merely in cases where it helps to increase profits.
Then we will all be winners.
Artificial intelligence requires human intelligence
Artificial intelligence doesn‘t just depend on programmers. The more opportunities that arise in this field,
the more solutions are needed in relation to socio-economic issues as a whole and ethical dilemmas in
particular: How can we avoid a dramatic rise in inequality as a potential consequence of the decline of work? Who is responsible if an autonomous vehicle kills someone? Everybody has to be involved in these issues – anthropologists, scientists, philosophers, sociologists and even artists – in order to shape this discourse for our society. In addition, we have to demand much greater empathy from technology companies in relation to undesired side effects. Due to all these challenges we need a good regulatory framework and good laws.
Innovative, disruptive, attractive Futuremovers arise where megatrends meet technological
Win-win is the name of the game: attractive returns for investors, handy solutions for our planet. Never have inefficiencies been eradicated as thoroughly as they are today – thanks to IT, data availability and global networking. An investment crisis? Far from it.
Smart mobility, smart farming and smart cities are all growth markets which are growing by between 15 and 20 percent a year. Long-term investors are well advised to align their portfolios with these future growth areas.