We’re putting AI to work, for a better planet

We’re putting AI to work, for a better planet

By Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Climate change is upon us – we’re seeing it happen. It’s a race against time – the effects are outpacing our combined efforts to combat the issues. Four among the top five risks in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Risk Report are linked to our environment. Scientists have been warning us about carbon emissions and climate change for decades now. The urgency is now multiplying.

Take for example, our forests. We’re losing 18.7 million acres of forests every year. Agriculture is a prime driver of deforestation. It is also the world’s largest industry, producing more than $1.3 trillion worth of food annually. Food production is no easier today than in the past – there’s less arable land, weather conditions are extreme, and harvests have lower nutritional value, thanks to climate change. What if we observed the impact of our land use practices more closely? That data could lead us to overcome major challenges.

Having data and insights around what’s happening on the planet can enable us to take better decisions and develop our ecosystems sustainably. That’s exactly what AI for Earth has set out to do. It aims to empower people and organizations to solve environmental challenges with technology. Through this program, Microsoft is democratizing access to AI for everyone who seeks to contribute to protecting the planet’s natural resources in the areas of climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, and water.

The $50 million, five-year program provides access to Microsoft Azure and AI computing resources, opportunities for education and training on AI, mentorship and investments in innovative, scalable solutions. Over the past year, AI for Earth has helped over 147 sustainability projects in more than 45 countries. Earlier this month, seven green warriors from India received AI for Earth grants as they stepped up to solve some of our most pressing environmental issues.

We’re using our natural resources as if we had 1.7 Earths. Action isn’t just an imperative; there’s also opportunity waiting to be unlocked. Changes in agricultural practices, for instance, will not just reduce carbon emissions; they can lead to increased crop yields. The technology revolution is here to help: what will also help is a cultural revolution. We need the support of an informed and engaged society aware of the challenges and keen to contribute in solving them.

Albeit difficult, it is crucial now to create fundamental mindset shifts and appreciation of sustainable development. Together, one step at a time, we have the power to alter the course of this disastrous trend and build a better and safer tomorrow. That cannot happen on a depleted planet. We can’t sit still on this ticking time bomb. It is incumbent on our generation to prevent the climate disaster, and every action counts now.