EarthLab: Artificial intelligence and sustainability

Fraunhofer IAO organizes artificial intelligence and sustainability forum

The Center for Responsible Research and Innovation CeRRI at Fraunhofer IAO has been commissioned by Microsoft to organize “EarthLab,” a two-day forum dedicated to examining whether the technological potential of artificial intelligence can be harnessed in the service of a greater sustainability.

Earth Lab
© Microsoft

Agriculture, biodiversity, climate change, water resources – the list of challenges currently facing planet earth is long and weighty. But new technologies can play a key role in helping society devise sustainable solutions to these pressing issues. Here, artificial intelligence (AI) offers a whole range of new and unforeseen approaches, and the aim must now be to exploit this potential.

CeRRI has been commissioned by Microsoft to organize a new forum at the crossroads between AI and sustainability. To be held on February 12 – 13, “EarthLab” will bring together AI experts and pioneers in environmental protection and sustainability. Their collaborative brief will be to examine the opportunities for new AI implementation scenarios, in a dialog process specially designed to generate new ideas for AI applications that serve to protect the planet. Ideally, this will lead not only to AI-based solutions that serve the common good, but also to the development of methods and strategies that substantiate how AI can be used to tackle the problems facing society. The forum is supported by an advisory board with members from industry, science and research, politics and civil society. In the wake of the event, there will also be the opportunity to apply for grants from the Microsoft “AI for Earth” program.

AI and sustainability: using one to promote the other

AI is based on the processing of huge amounts of data and an analysis of their complex interrelations. It has manifold applications across many areas. To harness this potential in the service of a greater sustainability, a broad spectrum of expertise and skills in the relevant fields needs to be linked together. This is precisely what EarthLab will do.

“To achieve a sustainable future, we must tailor technology to the needs of society, to the challenges we face as a society, and to the attainment of sustainability targets,” says Simone Kaiser, deputy director of CERRI at Fraunhofer IAO in Berlin. “And for that, we need an intensive dialog between experts from different fields. If we are to take on the task of shaping our future, we need new methods and new strategies. EarthLab shows us how to do this.”

AI solutions for greater sustainability depend on new forms of innovation

On a more general level, we need to be asking how innovation can be tailored more closely to the needs of society and to ethical concerns. “In order to tap the potential of new technologies such as AI and help create a more sustainable future, it is important to take into account diverse perspectives and different stakeholders, and to get society involved in this discussion at an early stage,” Kaiser says.

For those interested in taking a closer look at EarthLab, an evening event is being held on February 12 at 6.30 pm in Microsoft’s Digital Eatery in Berlin: “Erde an KI?! - Neue Ideen für unseren Planeten” (“Earth to AI! – Any New Ideas for our Planet?”) As well as providing a taster of the latest sustainable AI solutions, the program also features keynotes from Dirk Meyer (German Federal Ministry for the Environment), Marco Vollmar (WWF), and Alma Cardenas (Microsoft).