What are the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) for the environment? – Seven astonishing insights

post published March 19, 2020 post modified July 25, 2022

artificial intelligence + environment

Will AI-driven cars save the roads from a total gridlock? Can artificial intelligence help live a more resource-efficient life? Will artificial intelligence make the supply of energy easy to achieve? We provide insight into seven AI and the environment questions.

1. Can AI make agriculture more environmentally friendly?

In times of climate change, water has become a scarce commodity in many regions of the world. Just look back to the summer of 2018, when many German farmers had to watch their crops wither in the fields. This period of drought continues to have an impact today. In a statement from February 7, 2020, the Saxon State Office for the Environment, Agriculture and Geology announced that currently around 90 percent of the 150 monitoring stations evaluated were below the monthly typical groundwater level by an average of 65 cm. In other words, in agriculture astute water-conservation strategies are especially important. This is where AI can be of assistance.

The utilization of artificial intelligence enabled the E. & J. Gallo Winery to reduce its water consumption by 25 percent. At the same time the winery was able to increase its earnings by 30 percent. For this purpose, data on weather, soil conditions, dryness, wind, etc. were compiled and evaluated by an artificial intelligence. In the end, the AI determined the irrigation required by each individual vine, which led to the results mentioned above.

AI also helps calculate the amounts of fertilizer needed and pest control, thus reducing the environmental impact of these substances.

More information about AI and agriculture is available on the website of the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence.

2. Will there be less traffic if cars are autonomously driven?

In addition to e-mobility, the car industry is extremely interested in self-driving cars. It now seems reasonable to assume that self-driving cars could alleviate urban traffic, for example. Nobody would need a car anymore; people would simply wave down the next self-driving vehicle and have it take them to their destination. But that would mean that cars would no longer be anchored to private households. At the moment, this is rather unlikely, because most people are eager to have their OWN car. However, with today’s transport policy, autonomously driven cars would enable people who are currently not allowed to drive or cannot drive to make use of them, too. Children would drive to school on their own, the elderly would use them to get to the doctor – everyone with his own car.

Traffic would therefore increase rather than decrease. AI must therefore not ONLY lead to autonomous cars, it must also be combined with an intelligent traffic policy.

3. Can AI save biodiversity?

Artificial intelligence alone will not save biodiversity, but it can help. For instance, when it comes to putting a stop to poachers faster. The PAWS (Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security) computer program, for example, makes predictions as to where poachers will strike so that gamekeepers can intervene accordingly.

Furthermore, AI can monitor changes in the development of species diversity. This is the aim of the AMMOD (Automated Multisensor station for Monitoring Of species Diversity) project, which was set up in Germany. It combines data from automatically taken DNA samples, AI image recognition, AI bioacoustics (bird calls, insect buzzing) and automated scent analyses. With relatively little effort and manpower, it tests the development of species diversity in Germany. The project started in the winter of 2019.

The open source software framework “Wildbook” has been active for some time. Here, AI image recognition is used to automatically check wildlife populations.

This video reveals more about “Wildbook”: https://youtu.be/rQqao37u1wU

4. Can AI lead to a more secure power supply?

In Germany, the share of renewable energies in gross electricity consumption rose to 37.8 percent in 2018. In the previous year it was 36.0 percent. Of these, wind energy accounted for the largest share of renewable energy production with 26 percent. It was followed by biogenic fuels with 12 percent and photovoltaic with 11 percent. However, solar and wind energy are anything but easily calculable energy suppliers. If their share of the electricity mix continues to grow, the security of supply will be jeopardized, as both seem incalculable. At least that is what critics say. So are renewable energies a risk to security of supply in Germany?

This is exactly where AI is already helping today. For example, the Fraunhofer Institute is running a project near Bonn, which provides short-term wind forecasts for the control of wind turbines using AI. In this way, security of supply can be guaranteed even for wind power, which is difficult to calculate, as well as its favorable marketing, because renewable energies must also be able to assert themselves on the market.

5. Can AI help reduce energy consumption at home?

While the sun shines into the upper floors of a building and heats up the rooms, the lower, shady floors are quite chilly. Depending on which floor the sensor for the heating system is located on, it will either raise or lower the temperature. In both cases, part of the building will either be too cold or too warm. This small example shows how complex the issue of energy use in larger buildings is.

Here, AI can help better deal with resources and, for example, use heat more efficiently. It can also be used to control the consumption of water and electricity and quickly eliminate weak points in the system. In addition, artificial intelligence analyzes the energy requirements and, based on this, plans ahead by calculating when which amounts of electricity or heat will be needed at which point in the building. The Fraunhofer Institute, for example, is carrying out a project in Nuremberg for this purpose.

6. Will artificial intelligence prevent new pollutants?

New pesticides, genetically modified corn or new road surfaces – many things developed by the industry have an impact on the environment. In order to estimate consequences before a new pesticide is used, researchers need enormous amounts of data, which they must link in a useful way. AI makes the analysis of such information easier and more effective, making the assessment of whether or not the new insecticide will cause bee mortality more easily predictable.

7. Can AI lead to resource-saving behavior?

A water monitor in the shower that displays the current water and energy consumption, leads to a significantly more resource-saving showering behavior. As reported by Harvard Business Review in August 2019, a sign in a hotel room stating that 75 percent of the guests in that room used their towel more than once, increases the willingness of the guests to use the towel more than once. Real-time information and social comparison can improve people’s environment-conscious behavior.

If an AI evaluates further real-time data (driving speed, heating temperature, articles in the shopping basket, …) and informs via app about how current behavior affects the environment, many people will act in a more resource-saving way. The Federal Ministry for Environment, for example, also sees this opportunity in its article “Artificial Intelligence in the Environmental Sector”.

AI will not save the environment, that’s up to us

But AI is ideally suited for evaluating large amounts of data and recognizing patterns in it. In the case of environmental protection, the data is gathered from various scientific fields. Bringing them together to derive recommendations for action can also be achieved thanks to artificial intelligence. And since nature conservation in particular usually requires a high level of performance with limited manpower and resources, artificial intelligence is a valuable support in the work process. It thus becomes an essential instrument for environmental protection. But it is up to mankind to use this instrument wisely.