Major innovations throughout history, from cattle farming to the first and second industrial revolutions up to the emergence of computers in the digital age, have had some kind of negative impact on the environment.
In fact, the Earth has never experienced hotter climates, and this is primarily due to wastage by humans. Fortunately, as global cities work towards creating smarter services and normalizing smart buildings and eco-friendly cars, there remains hope in redirecting the global focus towards reducing our carbon footprint, preserving nature and wildlife, in order to save our planet.
Artificial intelligence, thus, may be one of the first major innovations that will help humankind reverse the environmental damage they caused; more realistically, AI could help reduce pollution slowly, and significantly.
In fact, AI has already disrupted many industries, allowing cars to reserve as much fuel as possible, thereby reducing pollution, and is even used to catch poachers to rescue endangered animals.
Why AI is the solution?
Because AI can ‘learn’ when it is used in a particular industry, such as farming, it can gather more data more quickly and more accurately than humans.
A type of AI that is particularly useful with environmental initiatives is called “general artificial intelligence.” This AI system can gather data from conventionally unrelated topics and find connections between them. For example, general artificial intelligence can compare and find relations between the fall of the stock market and the rise of the internet.
General AI is particularly useful when trying to save the environment because many factors can impact climate change, such as deforestation, cement production, mining, and thousands of more factors that may not be gaining media attention.
In order to analyze and compare all these different factors together, general AI comes in the picture to make it viable and possible for us to connect between these factors, and make sense out of them. General AI can scan hundreds of thousands of documents and analyze geographical features in much less time than traditional methods, and has proven to be an efficient alternative.
Some data scientists argue that despite research, we have yet to learn about Earth in detail. Currently, we are facing a critical time in conserving the planet’s resources, and AI can help humans adapt to and solve complex challenges through its applications in drones, sensors, and broadband connectivity.
AI applications that are changing the game
AI systems and models can monitor water and energy levels to reduce our waste levels as well as reduce our carbon footprint. More applications of environmental AI include:
- Land Cover Mapping
Land cover mapping used to be a monotonous, costly, and time-consuming task that is vital for environmental management. With AI, millions of images can be mapped in under 10 minutes. Prior, this would take months, and cost much more; ultimately, this can transform how we tackle deforestation and the effects of urbanization worldwide.
- Disaster Response and Prediction
AI applications can predict natural disasters before they occur as engineers train them through past learnings. For example, scientists can join together all data from satellite images onto an AI model which can then predict any disasters through analyzing geographical changes, such as changes in weather or the sea.
According to the World Economic Forum, AI can gather and analyze real-time data, including data from social media, around natural disasters in a specific location. Afterward, it can warn citizens and help them better prepare for disasters beforehand. Soon, AI can “determine optimal response strategies,” which in turn can save many more lives during natural disasters. 
- Smart Precision Agriculture
Using AI in agriculture can help farmers increase their crop yield, as they can receive real-time data on any weather changes that they should prepare for, and the conditions of their crop, as well as the temperature, moisture or dryness of the soil, and more.
For example, farmers can receive alerts on when their crops need water or fertilizers, which helps them produce better yields while utilizing their resources. Ultimately, through data-collection, AI models can detect and predict any crop diseases in their early stages, recommend the resources as per supply and demand. This helps farmers in water management, automates the farming process, and allows them to use fewer fertilizers and pesticides.
- Biodiversity Security
The University of Southern California’s Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society has unveiled that poaching (illegal animal hunting) has increased over the past 10 years, and if it remains at this speed, may result in the extinction of elephants and rhinoceroses in the next decade. 
Now, environmentalists can detect illegal poaching and identify animals in a particular area by using drones equipped with AI, machine learning, and thermal infrared cameras – a significant step towards preserving the planet’s biodiversity. Traditionally, identifying animals through thousands of satellite images was time-consuming, extremely difficult, and costly. As AI systems are becoming more relevant these days, environmentalists and scientists would be able to conduct more research and studies.
All in all, we have yet to know everything about our planet, and AI is helping us reach new heights of analysis and discovery. To discover how AI is reforming other industries, read more on our insights.
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 World Economic Forum, “8 ways AI can help save the planet” 24 Jan 2018.
 University of Southern California, Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society, “Machine learning for wildlife conservation with UAVs”