Using AI for Environmental Disaster Prevention

What comes to mind when you think of artificial intelligence? For most people, it’s things like the Terminator movie franchise or Elon Musk’s incessant and often intelligible fear of the technology. While the machines might not be sentient, AI is quickly becoming one of the most valuable tools we have in our collective arsenals.

From tracking disease spreads to staying one step ahead of poachers, how is AI helping us prevent environmental disasters around the globe?

Tracking Climate Change

Natural disasters are becoming more common every year, largely due to climate change. These disasters are occurring four times more frequently than they did 50 years ago, and experts predict that these numbers will continue to climb as the planet warms. AI systems, with enough data to study, can help to track the impact that climate change will have on the planet, as well as eventually begin to predict these disasters before they have a chance to devastate planetary populations.

The more information an AI system has, the smarter it can become. Add to that the fact that these systems can process information faster and more efficiently than humans, and these systems can even predict the future. It might sound like magic but it’s not fortune telling — it’s just data.

Mobilizing Relief Resources

One of the biggest challenges we face after a disaster is mobilizing relief resources to those that need them most. Currently, we rely on humans to decide when and where to distribute relief supplies and money — and if there are arguments about these facts, it can take a lot longer to determine who needs the most help. You only have to look at the United State’s delayed COVID response for the perfect example of that.

AI removes the guesswork and human bias, determining when and where relief supplies should be distributed based on data alone. They can dispatch emergency services, and even assess damage through the use of satellite photography. Some programmers are even working to create an AI that can analyze social media posts to determine where these services are most needed.

Tracking Pandemic Trends

When COVID-19 started circling the globe, we had no idea how to respond. Do we stay home? Do we wear masks? Do we shut things down or do we try to keep moving forward? There was a lot of conflicting information, and we weren’t sure what to do. People staying home and working remotely increased the need for power but decreased oil demand. The price of oil dropped dramatically in the early months of 2020. While it has recovered during the intervening months, it’s entirely possible that another lockdown, while we wait for full vaccine distribution, could have the same effect.

In these cases, renewable energy and AI go hand in hand. Currently, the electricity generated by sustainable systems is intermittent at best — solar doesn’t work at night, and the wind doesn’t work when the air is still. It’s up to system operators to compensate for this intermittent power generation to keep the grid stable. An AI system can manage that task more efficiently than a human operator in a fraction of the time, keeping things stable without worrying about human error. This sort of AI power grid control could prevent something like the devastating blackouts we saw in Texas during the 2021 Winter Storms.

The Future of AI

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the waves of the future. The technology may have garnered a negative reputation, thanks to pop culture references. Still, in reality, it can do things that would take a human being lifetime to accomplish in the blink of an eye. This is just the beginning.