The average atmospheric temperature of the Earth is higher now than it was 100 years ago. This rather dramatic rise in average temperature affects the global climate, which in turn affects localized weather, crop yields, habitats, geopolitical stability, and a host of other factors. While the Paris climate accord embodies the cumulative effort of most of the world's citizens to address these problems, Microsoft believes advances in technology can provide an even better understanding of our environmental issues.
This belief is why Microsoft announced in November 2017 that it was committing $50 million over the next five years to place artificial intelligence technology in the hands of individuals and organizations around the world who are working to counteract climate change consequences. The gesture corresponds with and supports Microsoft's overall strategic philosophy of "democratizing AI" by providing APIs and other infrastructure that simplify access to the benefits and power of this technology.
SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)
Changing data into actionable intelligence
The amount of climate change data being collected across the globe is immense and will require technology to assess its meaning and suggest courses of action. Microsoft believes AI is the technology that can best serve this purpose. As the blog post announcing the company's financial commitment states it:
"AI can be trained to classify raw data from sensors on the ground, in the sky or in space into categories that both humans and computers understand. Fundamentally, AI can accelerate our ability to observe environmental systems and how they are changing at a global scale, convert the data into useful information, and apply that information to take concrete steps to better manage our natural resources."
Microsoft wants to apply AI technology in four key areas—climate, water, agriculture, and biodiversity. Its plan to grow and scale these areas involves three steps:
- Expand seed grants around the world to create and test new AI applications.
- Identify the projects that show the most promise and make larger investments to help bring them to scale.
- Identify and pursue opportunities to incorporate new AI advances into platform-level services so that others can use them for their own sustainability initiatives.
Foregoing political arguments over how and why climate change exists, there can be no denying that it's going to affect our lives and our planet in ways we can't fully understand or even really imagine for the next 100 years—and perhaps for the next 100 years beyond that. Applying whatever technological know-how we can to solve the consequences created by this global phenomenon seems only sensible and prudent.
By making a strong proclamation that is both financial and strategic, Microsoft may induce additional commitments from other powerful companies in the information technology industry. When you get right down to it, mitigating whatever problems climate change brings to our world, through AI or any technology, may be the best overall business strategy for Microsoft—and for everyone else.
- Understanding the differences between AI, machine learning, and deep learning (TechRepublic)
- Machine learning: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- AI will eliminate 1.8M jobs but create 2.3M by 2020, claims Gartner (TechRepublic)
- How the UN uses technology to stem the tide of climate change (TechRepublic)
- AI is more than automation on steroids, it amplifies human innovation (ZDNet)
AI is being deployed in many different ways; does that worry you at all? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers at TechRepublic in the discussion thread below.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.