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Is AI going to end the world, or save it? — Sustainability, product consumption, and artificial intelligence, part 2

This is part two of an article that highlights the current possibilities and uses of artificial intelligence, and AI and sustainability can go hand in hand, with a focus on how the technology can be used to make significant changes towards production methods that are genuinely sustainable.

 

Now that you’ve read part one of this post, are you ready to see how AI can be used for good? Great, Let’s get going!

The possibilities of AI to make the world better

While I highly detest giving my data to an algorithm that knows more about me than my spouse, I must admit AI harbors some amazing optional in regards to sustainability.

 

Several high rollers in the consumer packaged goods industries have started to use AI as a way of optimizing production.

 

It works by an algorithm combing through a list of tens of thousands of ingredients and simulating their interaction.

 

In human speak: The program can figure out how different components in a product, say a yogurt, or body lotion, will interact, without having to mix the ingredients. This saves companies loads of time and money because they can focus on a few, highly targeted product tests, instead of months and years of testing different products by methodically replacing various components.

 

This means it can allow product developers to find cleaner alternatives to their list of ingredients. And this is where we have potential!

 

Let’s look at some examples

Clothing

As you probably know our fashion industry is taking a heavy toll on the environment. Besides from the 79 billion cubic meters of water the industry uses per year, and the 92 million tons of solid waste dumped in landfills each year, the industry is also generating more greenhouse gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

 

 

Yay, fashion!

But, our fashion needs and wants also has another consequence: Plastic pollution.

We all know microplastic pollution is bad, whether it’s polluting our oceans or floating around in the air we breathe.

 

While it’s wonderful to see national bans on everything from straws to single use-cups, there’s another overlooked culprit.

Our fleece sweaters and yoga pant are made from polyesters.

Polyester is a polymer, meaning a long chain of repeating molecular units (that’s science talk for plastic). And more and more of our clothes are made with plastic fibers.

You might have seen some fleece jackets being marketed as sustainable jackets. That’s because they are made from recycled plastic. Well, that’s still an issue.

When you wear and wash your clothing, pieces of the fabric will fall off. But this fabric is made of plastic.

That means your washing machine empties out its water, the tiny plastic threads are carried with the graywater.

The effect of micro- and nano plastic is still not fully research, but its documented that microplastic in fish results in brain damage and behavioral change.

Tiny note on biology: If other species with a central nervous system is affected, humans probably are as well.

 

Using AI to asses the durability and elasticity of more sustainable fabrics, like bamboo fibers, wool, and cotton blends could help pave the way for better fabrics, that are still soft and durable.

 

Beauty products and food

 

In the world of sustainable beauty products, there is one major villain. Palm oil.

 

Being the most widely used vegetable oil in the world, palm oil is believed to be in about 50% of products found in supermarkets and shops!

 

It sounds like a natural and healthy ingredient to use in beauty products, right? Palm oil can currently be found in everything from conditioner, to body lotion, toothpaste and, let’s not forget the Grace and Frankie special, lube.

 

On the food spectrum, palm oil can be found in anything from ice cream and margarine,

 

But the palm oil industry is insanely destructive on the environment and countries like Malaysia, and Indonesia suffer devastating loss in biodiversity as almost 50% of the local deforestation is a result of tropical forests being cut down to make way for palm oil plantations.

It’s estimated that palm oil responsible for 0.4% of global deforestation.

 

Pretty heartbreaking.

 

The reason palm oil is used in half of all super marked products is, that it’s safe and cheap

— that is, it’s cheap as long as you don’t count in the externalities (hidden costs) from biodiversity destructions.

 

 

Where AI could do the environment a solid, is by finding alternative ingredient combination to substitute palm oil.

Or at the very least, cut down on the amount of oil needed.

 

 

Think about it. AI’s are already being used to optimize products, by finding cheaper alternative ingredients that do not change the properties of the product.

 

If you made it analyze all known ingredients in the food and beauty industry, blacklisting some ingredients like pall oil.

 

Heck, maybe AI could even come up with the world’s first non-toxic nail polish (yep, nail polish is pretty toxic, and not great if you’re into green living).

 

 

Natural insecticides, to replace the neonicotinoids and fungicides that are killing off our pollinators

 

By now you likely know that colony collapse disorder, and the rapid decline in pollinations is linked to habitat loss and our current agricultural processes.

 

More precisely, the pesticide and fungicides we use in the agricultural sector have been shown to weaken the immune system of bees and mess with their navigation skills.

 

As a result, we are seeing an alarming drop in pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

 

In short, we need pollinators to, well pollinate, if we are to keep a healthy global food production system. It’s estimated that 1/3 of all global food, is dependent on pollinators.

The list of food that could possibly go extinct from lack of pollinators include Chocolate and coffee.

Back to AI!

One way futuristic computers could help us is by the deployment of smart robot bees. But, if you like me, have seen black mirror, you’re probably not going to be in favor of millions of tiny robots all mounted with cameras.

 

Instead, AI could be used to prevent the total collapse of our ecosystem.

Like all old school farmers know, there are alternatives to mainstream pesticides and herbicides. Things like eucalyptus and garlic, are known to keep unwanted pests abbey. As a bonus, your fields will be vampire free.

(Fun side note, My granddad, that I’ve mentioned before taught me how to use garlic as a pesticide when I was a kid. I think that might also be where I got the lame vampire joke. #SorryNotSorry.)

Again, AI could be tasked with sorting through knowledge about safer alternatives to common-use pesticides. That would creat recipes out of non-harmful ingredients.

 

This recipe could then be lab tested to make sure, they don’t have negative side effects on crops or wildlife.

 

The Greenenator — AI’s gear for improving the future of our planet

 

So there you have. A run through of how AI could be used to for good.

We could use a sustainability Terminator to stop some of our current harmful behaviors. Or, We could use it to save the millions of hectares of forest from being cut down, or by halting the causes of colony collapse disorder, or by limiting the amount of microplastic that ends up in our food stream.

 

We have a choice now. Either, we can use AI to sell more fast food, and make tastier beers, or…

Dear future, let’s work to make Alpha Go, go green.

 

 

 

Keep being awesome,
Mona

 

 

Endnote: if you are more curious about AI I recommend this lengthy post from WaitButWhy.

I also highly recommend this more general book about algorithms and al, The Formula, Luke Dormehl.

And lastly, for those of you who love exploring Sci-fi, this fanfiction is some of the best I’ve read about AI (surprisingly well researched), I advise you to check out Friendship is optimal.

 

AI to promote sustainability

Is AI going to end the world, or save it? — Sustainability, product consumption, and artificial intelligence, part 1

This article highlights the current possibilities and uses of artificial intelligence, and AI and sustainability can go hand in hand, with a focus on how the technology can be used to make significant changes towards production methods that are genuinely sustainable.

 

(If you’re already caught up on the advances of AI, go to this post to read about how deep learning can promote sustainable products and production methods.)

AI and sustainability — but why?

Is artificial intelligence going to end the world, or save it? While this could easily be the question of a fluff article on medium, you know me better than that.

As a personal interest, I follow AI use. Now, I think it’s time we talked about the possible benefits of using AI in the battle against environmental collapse.

AI to promote sustainability

 

Every week seems to harbor new and terrifying news about climate change, loss in biodiversity, and well, overall environmental destruction.

At the same time, the future seems to be rushing past us with breathtaking speed.

 

I’m mostly skeptical about new technologies that claim to solve environmental issues. If you’ve read enough of these posts you know that it’s because we humans have a tendency to solve complicated issues, by creating even larger, more complex issues.

 

And while chatbots are as annoying as sand in your shoes, the technology holds some interesting potential.

 

Let’s break it down.

 

Ready. Set. GO!

If you have read the tech news in the last couple of years, you likely saw Google’s AlphaGo beat a human champing in the strategic game of Go.

This is a big deal for several reasons.

1: Go is very different from Chess and requires almost fluent intelligence. You can’t brute force your way through a game by simulating every optional outcome as you can in chess. In other words, you need years of cognitive experience playing the game, before you get a “feel” for good or bad moves.

 

2: The AI played in a way that seemed random to the human commentators. The moves appeared to be erratic, but would later in the game turn out to be significant strategic moves, that would ultimately make it the victor. This means AlphaGo “thinks” in ways that are strategically unimaginable to human players.

 

Artificial intelligence and deep learning allows for the processing of vast amounts of information, combine the data, and learn from it. That’s why AI and sustainability could be a combination worth looking at.

 

Here are some examples of how AI is currently used in the consumer packaged goods industry, and the world of medical science.

 

Beer, Big Macs. & breast cancer — the span of AI

 

Yes, we are jumping right in!
Turns out that Carlsberg, the 4th largest brewery in the world, is the player that invited AI to the frat party.

 

As part of their Beer Fingerprint Projects, Carlsberg is using AI, including machine learning algorithms, to measure the flavors and aromas in beers.

The goal is to map a flavor fingerprint of each beer sample, thereby reducing the time it takes to research taste combinations.

They estimate a time saving up to a third, which will help Carlsberg bring new flavors to the market faster.

 

Another fun project that Carlsberg has been brewing is their Red Hop project.

Based on research into how light and sound affect plants, this techy beer company installed big-screen TVs in a greenhouse and played Liverpool FC matches nonstop for the crop of red hops growing there.

 

All for the sake of creating a special brew infused with the soccer team’s colors and the fans’ roaring cheers.

So… That happened.

 

If you got a headache reading that, don’t worry, you’re not alone. At least we can file it under “publicity stunt”.

 

AI-controlled drive-throughs

 

At the other end of the scale, everyone’s favorite cause of diabetes, McDonald’s, has been spending the last couple of years looking into their customers’ purchasing habits, with an interesting new approach to upsell.

 

AI sustainability

McDonald’s serves around 68 million customers every single day, and more than half of that is via drive-throughs. That’s a lot of data points.

 

After acquiring the startup Dynamic Yield in 2018, McD’s started implementing algorithmically driven decision logic technology into their drive-throughs.

 

In short, when you place an order, millions upon millions of exciting data points will generate suggestions for you to add to your order. The most relevant menu items are ready for upselling.

 

It’s basically a mind reader that knows what you want to eat and when.

 

Currently, the U.S. national average for a drive-through trip is about 190 seconds. Ai is trying to cut that down even more, while pushing even more sales.

Artificial intelligence in your boobs

 

And finally, breast cancer. With many advances in the medicinal industry, the world of medical science is looking to computers and deep learning.

Radiology is one of the fields seeing a sharp rise in the usage of programs, that are used to analyze x-ray photos, and can be used for detecting fracture and other musculoskeletal injuries.

 

Both IBM and Google have chimed in on best cancer detection. Google’s LYNA is claiming a 99% accuracy in metastatic breast cancer detection!

 

 

LYNA wasn’t perfect — it occasionally misidentified giant cells, germinal cancers, and bone marrow-derived white blood cells known as histiocytes — but managed to perform better than a practicing pathologist tasked with evaluating the same slides. Venturebeat

Outperforming humans in cancer detection is arguably a good thing.

Now, let’s look at some more ways artificial intelligence can help make the world better, in the next post about AI and sustainability.