AI x Ecology

The panel AI x Ecology deals with the question how technology can influence our environment and ecology. I have often asked myself how sustainable technology, internet use and especially streaming is and how we can use technology to live more sustainable. In her talk „Computational Sustainability: Computing for a Better World and a Sustainable Future“ Carla P. Gomes gives an insight into her work and explains what sustainable development means. 

Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations. The United Nations defined 17 Sustainable development goals. The ultimate sustainable development goal is Human well-being of current and future generations. 

The first project Gomes talked about was eBird. The main question of biodiversity research is how different species are spread over time. Therefore they combined bird observation and environmental data as well as adaptive spatial and temporal machine learning. This way environmental factors of occurrences and absences of the birds could be identified and habitat preferences were revealed. As a result bird conservation could be carried out.

The second project was about Hydropower Dam Proliferation in the Amazon Basin. False positioning of the dams can have tremendous effects on Ecosystem services and products of river networks such as energy, biodiversity (ie. fish), transportation,… and can even lead to greenhouse gases. Gomes explained how the use the Pareto Frontier in order to have the same energy output but a much higher ecological value. Therefore, they have to take different criteria such as energy, connectivity, biodiversity into consideration. 

Computational sustainability is a two-ways street it give new insights, methodologies and solutions for sustainability problems but also new challenges, new formalisms and new concepts arise. And everything impacts our society tremendously.

Gomes also talked about how in computer science various tools can be applied to different topics. For example instead of studying how invasive species spread and how to stop them you could also apply some of the tools on how the corona virus spreads and how it can be stoped. In order to develop more ethical AI systems we can’t just have one particular goal in mind but rather understand the consequences of our actions and consider a variety of goals.

In the end Mark Coeckelbergh talked about the side of philosophy ethics and how using AI for climate can also be problematic. He also pointed out the consumption of energy of technology. Furthermore he is also critical about how AI can influence and manipulate peoples behavior. 

I really liked that also a philosopher was included in this talk who also pointed out the rather critical aspects of AI. Because sometimes I feel like the part about „manipulating peoples behavior“ is not considered because everyone is too exited and flashed by new technologies. Nevertheless, the two projects Gomes presented where really inspiring and they perfectly showed how technology can be used for eco projects.