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How can AI Create a Sustainable Future for Us?

Do AI and sustainability fit together? Yes, with AI, we can conserve resources and protect nature and the climate

August 11 2021Fabian Placht

From intelligence to sustainability

There are useful applications for artificial intelligence (AI) in all industries. AI solutions facilitate more sustainability and further advantages like reduced costs or automized digital processes. Another focus: to develop AI itself in a sustainable way and to protect resources and the environment through the AI solutions developed.

AI - more than just a few lines of code

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What is artificial intelligence? AI usually describes the attempt to adapt certain decision-making structures of humans or human learning to be done by a computer. AI can be on many different levels and have different dimensions; a “one-size-fits-all” AI does not exist. It is however beyond the scope of this post to describe all facets of this topic. I will therefore concentrate on the many positive effects of marketable AI solutions that can be gained. Moreover, I will explain at which points participants can conserve resources in the development of AI and how AI in its later implementation can protect nature and the climate. I will use AI as an umbrella term for all related digital technologies, such as machine learning, deep learning and neural networks, to simplify the context.

The beginnings of thoughts on sustainability

Let's take a quick look at sustainability. Is what I personally understand of sustainability also the common definition? In my internet research, I quickly stumbled upon the origin of the term: sustainability goes back to Carl von Carlowitz (1645–1714) and the field of forestry. In this context, only so much wood should be taken from the forest as can be naturally regenerated within a specific time frame. The goal is therefore to use natural resources sustainably. This definition has endured to this day. 

Now we are training sustainability

How do AI and sustainability fit together? First of all: an AI also needs to learn. Based on algorithms, it learns how to recognize laws or correlations independently. It also requires large amounts of data and therefore also sufficient computing capacity. Even AI training can be done sustainably, for example: 

  • with the shared and scalable public cloud environments that are used by many companies and 
  • a cloud provider that relies on green energy,
  • where AI training is carried out using excess energy on weekends, bank holidays or overnight.

But AI can do more than that: how the AI develops and works in the future can have a positive impact on energy consumption, if for example the design of the AI is incorporated into energy-efficient hardware with capable processors and there is the right mixture of code for energy-saving calculations as well as being possible with the developed service synergies.

An increasing number of AI solutions are using scalable environments in clouds, whose providers use green energy and comprehensive energy-efficient measures.

Fabian Placht, Sales Expert, T-Systems International

Can AI be the environment's best friend?

Resources can not only be used sustainably in the creation of AI, the solutions developed can also contribute to sustainability: through the analysis of environmental data, user behaviour and weather, conditions around buildings, prognoses can be created with the support of AI. This can allow us to predict the amount of sunlight in each apartment and program the heating accordingly. The use of this data reduces energy consumption up to 30 percent. The residents save on fixed costs and no longer need to adjust the inside temperature themselves. At the same time, landlords benefit from happy tenants and less costs, as the building technology works more economically.

Energy suppliers can also reap the benefits of using AI themselves. Using AI-based chat bots, meter readings and appointments can easily be automized. Customers and colleagues no longer need to fill out paper forms. This reduces paper usage and printing costs, as well as avoiding costly dispatch logistics.

AI support in all industries

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Supply chain is the key word: AI solutions help production companies to comprehensively document their supply chains, right down to their raw material suppliers. With AI platforms, buyers can request, share and analyze the data from subcontractors. AI-supported calculations can help identify possible risks across the whole supply chain, evaluate these and purchase the necessary resources. This creates consistent transparency, which means you can ensure you're working with sustainable suppliers and filter out those that don't consider sustainability criteria.

As well as companies, authorities are also increasingly using AI to help protect against emergencies. Using satellite-imaging over land masses, AI can be used to recognize potential fire risks early and identify unprotected coastal areas. Thanks to the automatic and fast recognition of changing land masses, the correct measures can be taken early to reduce or prevent damage.

Where is the journey going?

These examples are only a small selection of what is now possible with AI. They show that artificial intelligence can be used in many industries and can improve sustainability in these areas. Alongside this, AI always scores points with numerous added values. As well as conserving resources, it also accelerates processes - this reduces costs and also simplifies and improves the user experience.

At the moment, it's not just large companies, but also an increasing number of start-ups that are focusing on the topics of AI and sustainability and are breaking completely new ground. It is beneficial for them therefore that an increasing number of IT solutions run on scalable environments in clouds, whose providers use green energy and comprehensive energy-efficient measures.

Does AI also have shortcomings and limits and does it need to be chosen and implemented “intelligently”? The answer to this question is Yes. In the future, there will certainly be even more good reasons to use AI. I am excited to see where the journey leads us.

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About the author
Fabian Placht, Sales Expert

Fabian Placht

Squad Lead Innovation & Digitalization at Cloud Expert Sales, T-Systems International GmbH

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