AI for Earth: Harnessing the power of the community

AI for Earth believes AI is key to a sustainable future

Microsoft’s AI for Earth program aims to empower environmental sustainability projects by providing them with the cloud and AI tools they need to solve today’s environmental challenges. The tech company awards grants for projects in four broad areas: climate change, water, agriculture and biodiversity.

How does AI help build environmental sustainability?

Each of the AI for Earth’s four main focus areas has a direct application for AI. The projects use computer vision, machine learning and cloud services to develop tools for analyzing the current problems faced by our planet, and implementing strategies to overcome them. By hosting and facilitating access to key environmental data sets, Microsoft provides the projects with the information they need.

AI technology can help produce more accurate predictions about the effects of climate change, so we can work to mitigate the potential effects. Similarly, AI can assist in modeling the planet’s water supply in order to protect our freshwater reserves.

By enabling people to easily map the different species of plants and animals around the globe, AI helps kickstart regulations and projects to protect biodiversity worldwide. And AI tools that help farmers monitor their food crops in real time are an integral part of ensuring an adequate food supply in a world with a growing population and dwindling natural resources.

AI and social media

Microsoft’s AI for Earth program uses feedback from its grantees to work together towards achieving environmental sustainability. Said Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer, in an interview with Business Today: “Everything we're doing is driven by the requirements of our portfolio of grantees because what's really important for an organisation like Microsoft to recognise is that while we may be a significant technology company, we also have to recognise that most of the expertise in the environmental science space lies outside of our four walls. It lies within our grantee portfolio. So, it's really by working together that we help them and they help us understand the problems and the promise of working in the environmental sustainability space.”

In the way it relies on the user feedback and data insights provided by community-driven platforms, Microsoft's AI for Earth program is similar to the way AI is used in social media marketing. Companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn analyze big data garnered from millions of users to improve their products. They also plug this data into sophisticated algorithms so they can offer suggestions to their advertising clients on how to better fit advertisements to a given target group. AI is crucial to improving efficiency, compiling the data from millions of users and allowing them to contribute to a common goal.

Just as AI helps connect researchers and startups with the information they need for their projects, AI in social media helps connect information with the people who can most benefit from it. And like crowdfunding, AI makes it feasible for small startups from around the world to have a fighting chance in the global marketplace. AI will be an essential part of business in the future, as we've already seen in Google's AI labs.

By combining the power of AI and the benefits of social media, programs like Microsoft's AI for Earth have a good chance of enabling startups to have a positive impact on sustainability.