Information is power. Until recently, information about the condition of the earth’s environment has been accessible only to a limited number of people — climate scientists, researchers, and government officials among them. On December 11 — the two-year anniversary of the Paris climate accords — Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, announced his company will invest $50 million over the next 5 years to democratize access to the data available about the environment available from the thousands of land, sea, and atmospheric sensors in place around the world using AI or artificial intelligence.
The plan is to make it possible for individuals and business owners to access the data available so they can analyze it themselves and decide how to best take strategic actions that will benefit them personally and support the quest for climate change strategies that promote the goals of the Paris climate accords. For instance, Microsoft envisions AI tools that will allow people to conserve energy and reduce water usage in agriculture.
On its AI For Earth webpage, Microsoft sets forth 3 goals:
Access — Through the AI for Earth grant program, individuals and organizations can gain access to cloud and AI computing resources to create more efficient environmental solutions.
Education — New AI for Earth educational opportunities will enable organizations to explore available AI tools, learn how to use them, and discover how these tools can meet their specific needs.
Innovation — AI for Earth will accelerate the pace of innovation by managing projects that demonstrate new applications, publishing research to further the scientific discussion, and partnering with others to expand and grow initial projects.
“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,” Smith said. “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.”
According to a report by Futurism, the expansion of the AI For Earth program involves 3 steps. First, Microsoft will provide funding for researchers around the world to design and test new AI applications. Second, the most promising applications will receive additional funds to bring them to scale. Third, Microsoft will make the most useful applications part of the services it provides to climate scientists and others involved with sustainable initiatives.
“We face a collective need for urgent action to address global climate issues. When we think about the environmental issues we face today, science tells us that many are the product of previous Industrial Revolutions,” Smith said as part of the December 11 announcement. “We must not only move technology forward, but also use this era’s technology to clean up the past and create a better future.”
Democratizing access to information may provide a means of bypassing the climate trolls who insist climate change is a hoax dreamed up by China to embarrass the US. It could empower people to make up their own minds without resort to the priests of propaganda whose mission is to obfuscate and confuse. With luck, this approach could change the narrative being bandied about by certain political leaders who shall remain nameless.