AI tools can help individuals tackle climate change, scientists say

Experts from Harvard, MIT, Google, Microsoft, and elsewhere say artificial intelligence could contribute to high impact solutions for reducing global emissions.

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AI can empower Individuals to do their share in reducing global emissions, says a new paper. 

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Small footprints can leave lasting impressions. In a paper released earlier this month, a team of machine learning experts mention how artificial intelligence tools can empower individuals to reduce their own carbon footprint. 

Put together by experts from Harvard, MIT, Google, Microsoft, and elsewhere, the paper (PDF) describes machine learning solutions that could let large players, ranging from transportation systems to whole cities, reduce energy wastage and greenhouse gases. But it also dismisses the notion that individuals don't contribute heavily to global emissions, and includes a section on how everyday people can take steps to reduce 20%-37% of global emissions through 2050. 

For instance, the paper describes how machine learning can predict someone's carbon footprint from flight information extracted from emails or from grocery items listed on a supermarket bill. Consumers can pinpoint which habits contribute to the highest emissions and take steps to curb them. 

From a household perspective, individuals could use machine learning to predict how their high-energy appliances might have a significant effect. The paper notes that appliances use electricity even when not in use.

For those consumers worried about privacy, the paper recommends that individual emission estimates could be included on grocery labels or in interfaces for purchasing plane tickets.

"It's the responsibility of the companies developing these tools to make very clear to consumers what data they need," said David Rolnick, a research fellow at University of Pennsylvania who contributed to the paper.

The collaborative effort among researchers takes place at a time when some major corporations and cities have made attempts to reduce their carbon footprint. In May, multinational electronics company LG launched an initiative to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its international operations by 2030. Similarly, automobile brand Volkswagen opened up a 100% carbon-neutral data center in Norway last week (though the company was also embroiled in an infamous emissions scandal.)

The researchers didn't immediately respond to a request for additional comment. 
Originally published June 26, 1:35 p.m. ET
Update, 3:45 p.m.: Adds comment from David Rolnick

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