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A Healthy Planet is a Happy Planet: How AI can Help Heal the Environment

Published on
June 29, 2022

Healing Mother Earth with Data and Artificial Intelligence

The earth, the environment, nature is entirely organic and has sustained itself since its formation. Seemingly something so organic has no need for technology, yet, with all the changes going on in this planet, we can look to AI to help put this planet back on track for happy and healthy millennia to come. A worldwide goal has been set to keep global warming below 1.5°C and reduce greenhouse gas emission in half by 2030. The UN states that “Without action, exposure to air pollution beyond safe guidelines will increase by 50 per cent within the decade and plastic waste flowing into aquatic ecosystems will nearly triple by 2040.” In order to protect the planet, key areas such as pollution, nature, climate, and the ocean need to be addressed. National holidays like Earth Day and World Environmental Day aim to raise awareness about environmental issues and bring focus to each individuals potential impact and ways to improve it. AI is also a big part of the conversation as it can help the planet on a broader scale.

Reduce Air Pollution and Breath Easy

A study published by IOPscience shows the correlation between an increase in hospitalization for respiratory illnesses when air quality worsens. Existing air quality forecasting models can only predict air quality a few days in advance, which isn’t enough time to put preventative measures in place beyond the recommendation to stay inside. Leveraging AI, air quality reports can now predict what air quality will be like as early as two weeks in advance. This is done through training AI models with past air quality data. The model learns what patterns lead to specific outcomes and can become an early warning system if air quality is set to be extremely poor. This even gives hospitals the chance to prepare for a possible influx of patients. Outdoor air pollution contributes to the death of 4.2 million people every year, according to WHO. Airborne particles, known as PM2.5, can travel into a person’s lungs and negatively impact health. Duke University is conducting a study using machine learning on satellite imagery to aide in reducing air pollution. They've managed to leverage AI to swiftly identify pollution hotspots in real time. Though research is still in progress, but initial results look promising.

Preventing the Endangerment of Species

What negatively impacts us impacts all living things we share this planet with. Environmental changes must also be made to ensure animal species don’t die out and there are a few use cases for AI to help preserve our wildlife:

  • Monitoring endangered species population count
  • Tracking animal migration and hunting patterns
  • Preventing illegal trading and poaching

Satellites and drones can be used to quickly survey an area and count how many of a specific species there are. This enables accurate real time tracking to make sure population numbers aren’t drastically decreasing. This same technology can also identify humans in the area to prevent potential poaching and trading. One company, Rainforest Connection, is using AI powered acoustic monitoring systems to identify the sounds associated with cars or chainsaws that indicate potential attempts at deforestation or poaching. By tracking animals’ migration and hunting patterns, scientists are able to detect ideal environments in cases where relocation is necessary due to climate change making habitats uninhabitable.

City skyline with various work related symbols

Reversing Climate Change by Optimizing our Energy Output

Electricity accounts for 28% of the carbon admissions in the US alone. 68% of the energy the US generates is wasted each year due to inefficiencies. Create energy efficient building and homes by:

  • Only sending electricity to designated items when needed
  • Monitoring for potential device breakages
  • Having sensors turn off lights if no one is in a room
  • Using thermostats that automatically adjust temperature based on weather and occupancy

Smart sensors are the key to optimizing energy output. AI models can train sensors to learn to detect if a room is no longer occupied and lights should be turned off. The same logic is applied to sensors that detect temperature changes and adjust the air conditioning or heat when needed. Overall, building control management systems are a great starting point for most buildings, facilitating monitoring for malfunctions or increases in energy consumption. A warning can be triggered alerting building staff to investigate and correct problems immediately. To learn more about climate change and how we're doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint read Earth Day 2022: Appen’s Commitment to a Better Environment.

A Bluer Ocean for Tomorrow

70% of the planet is covered by the ocean, 90% of which remains unexplored. Coral reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean but support 25% of marine life. The UN is now estimating that 25-50% of all coral reefs have been destroyed beyond repair, and another 60% are at risk. Coral reefs don’t just benefit sea life, they also help protect the shoreline of nearby islands and reduce the impact of natural disasters hitting land. Repairing coral reefs is vital to saving both sea and life on land. AI is utilized to help monitor marine health. Models are trained with audio data that indicates whether coral is healthy, sick, or dead--noises made by the reef and nearby sea life indicate how healthy a coral reef is--the more noise, the healthier the reef. Using AI to monitor reef health is also a less invasive method than having humans dive under water to collect samples, as this disrupts the nearby sea life. Additionally, AI can detect audio that human ears cannot. At the University of Exeter, scientists have dubbed this process as the “song of the reef” and their AI model can determine reef health with 92% accuracy, enabling others to know how successful reef restoration projects are. This technology will help ensure we are able to identify the best methods possible to save reef life.

Appen’s Commitment to a Better Environment

While AI is helping us make a big impact on improving our environment, each and every one of us still needs to do our part. In addition to our commitment to reduce our carbon footprint, our team at Appen is also dedicated to making positive environmental changes. In honor of World Environment Month, we polled our staff to find out everyday things they're doing to reduce their carbon footprint:

  • Shop with reusable bags
  • Bike instead of drive when possible
  • Recycle and compost
  • Use energy efficient lightbulbs
  • Plant trees to offset carbon output
  • Create a garden
  • Eat less meat
  • Eat organic fruits and vegetables
  • Carpool or take public transport
  • Shop gently used items

We recommend starting small and just doing one or two things to start. Making small lifestyle changes at a time has a higher rate of success than trying to make a lot of changes at once. If everyone just makes one small change it will still have a significantly positive impact on the environment. To further raise awareness, we also conducted a fundraiser for EarthDay,org with a corporate matching program and promoted an internal pledge program, encouraging our team to make a promise, big or small, to make a change for the better.

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