AI assesses climate problems but fails to find a complete solution

Amid efforts by climate scientists and advocates to tackle environmental challenges, Sims Witherspoon, head of climate action at DeepMind at Google, sees the potential of artificial intelligence (AI), emphasizing the importance of defining the solution through thoughtful questioning.

At the Wired Impact Conference in London, Sims Witherspoon, head of climate action at Google DeepMind, said she see climate change as a scientific and technological challenge, expressing optimism that it can be solved through artificial intelligence. Earlier this year, Google merged its Brain and DeepMind AI teams under a single banner called Google DeepMind.

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Witherspoon suggested a strategy dubbed “Understand, Optimize, Accelerate,” outlining three steps to tackling climate change with AI, which involve engaging with affected people, assessing the applicability of AI, and to deploy a solution for impactful change.

DeepMind Climate Action Lead at the Wired Impact Conference in London Source: Youtube

Looking at the path to deployment, Witherspoon observed that some options become less viable due to existing regulatory conditions, infrastructure constraints, or other limitations and dependencies such as limited availability of data or suitable partners.

Witherspoon emphasized the importance of a collaborative approach, emphasizing that while individual expertise is valuable, cooperation is crucial and requires the combined contributions of academics, regulators, businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the communities concerned.

Witherspoon said that in collaboration with the UK National Weather Office in 2021, Google DeepMind leveraged its comprehensive radar data to analyze UK rainfall using AI. The data was entered into Google’s Deep Generative Model of Rain (DGMR) generative AI model.

Witherspoon said:

“We conducted a qualitative assessment involving 50 weather experts from the UK Met Office, and over 90% of them favored our methods, ranking them as their first choice over traditional methods.”

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She emphasized that source code data and verification methods are freely available. Although he recognizes the potential of AI in the fight against climate change, Witherspoon also cautioned that this emerging technology is not a panacea.

Sims Witherspoon said AI is not a one-size-fits-all solution to climate challenges. She highlighted the importance of deploying AI responsibly, recognizing its environmental impact from energy-intensive processes until the grid runs on carbon-free energy.

In May, Kate Saenko of Boston University warned on the environmental impact of AI models like GPT-3. The 175 billion parameter model consumed the equivalent of 123 cars for a year, generating 552 tonnes of CO2, even before its public release.

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