AI Weekly: AI researchers launch toolkit to advertise AI that helps to attain sustainability targets
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AI Weekly: AI researchers launch toolkit to advertise AI that helps to attain sustainability targets

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Whereas discussions about AI typically middle across the know-how’s business potential, more and more, researchers are investigating ways in which AI will be harnessed to drive societal change. Amongst others, Fb chief AI scientist Yann LeCun and Google Mind cofounder Andrew Ng have argued that mitigating local weather change and selling power effectivity are preeminent challenges for AI researchers.

Alongside this vein, researchers on the Montreal AI Ethics Institute have proposed a framework designed to quantify the social influence of AI via methods like compute-efficient machine studying. An IBM venture delivers farm cultivation suggestions from digital farm “twins” that simulate the longer term soil situations of real-world crops. Different researchers are utilizing AI-generated photographs to assist visualize local weather change, and nonprofits like WattTime are working to scale back households’ carbon footprint by automating when electrical automobiles, thermostats, and home equipment are energetic primarily based on the place renewable power is accessible.

Searching for to spur additional explorations within the area, a gaggle on the Stanford Sustainability and Synthetic Intelligence Lab this week launched (to coincide with NeurIPS 2021) a benchmark dataset referred to as SustainBench for monitoring sustainable growth targets (SDGs) together with agriculture, well being, and schooling utilizing machine studying. Because the coauthors advised VentureBeat in an interview, the purpose is threefold: (1) decrease the boundaries to entry for researchers to contribute to attaining SDGs; (2) present metrics for evaluating SDG-tracking algorithms, and (3) encourage the event of strategies the place improved AI mannequin efficiency facilitates progress in the direction of SDGs.

“SustainBench was a pure consequence of the numerous analysis initiatives that [we’ve] labored on over the previous half-decade. The driving power behind these analysis initiatives was at all times the shortage of huge, high-quality labeled datasets for measuring progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Growth Targets (UN SDGs), which compelled us to provide you with inventive machine studying methods to beat the label sparsity,” the coauthors mentioned. “[H]aving gathered sufficient expertise working with datasets from numerous sustainability domains, we realized earlier this 12 months that we had been well-positioned to share our experience on the information aspect of the machine studying equation … Certainly, we aren’t conscious of any prior sustainability-focused datasets with related dimension and scale of SustainBench.”


Progress towards SDGs has traditionally been measured via civil registrations, population-based surveys, and government-orchestrated censuses. Nonetheless, information assortment is pricey, main many international locations to go many years between taking measurements on SDG indicators. It’s estimated that solely half of SDG indicators have common information from greater than half of the world’s international locations, limiting the flexibility of the worldwide neighborhood to trace progress towards the SDGs.

“For instance, early on throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many growing international locations carried out their very own money switch packages, much like the direct money funds from the IRS in the US. Nonetheless … information information on family wealth and earnings in growing international locations are sometimes unreliable or unavailable,” the coauthors mentioned.

Improvements in AI have proven promise in serving to to plug the information gaps, nevertheless. Knowledge from satellite tv for pc imagery, social media posts, and smartphones can be utilized to coach fashions to foretell issues like poverty, annual land cowl, deforestation, agricultural cropping patterns, crop yields, and even the situation and influence of pure disasters. For instance, the governments of Bangladesh, Mozambique, Nigeria, Togo, and Uganda used machine learning-based poverty and cropland maps to direct financial assist to their most weak populations throughout the pandemic.

However progress has been hindered by challenges, together with a lack of know-how and dearth of information for low-income international locations. With SustainBench, the Stanford researchers — together with contributors at Caltech, UC Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon — hope to supply a beginning floor for coaching machine studying fashions that may assist measure SDG indicators and have a variety of purposes for real-world duties.

SustainBench comprises a set of 15 benchmark duties throughout seven SDGs taken from the United Nations, together with good well being and well-being, high quality schooling, and clear water and sanitation. Past this, SustainBench affords duties for machine studying challenges that cowl 119 international locations, every designed to advertise the event of SDG measurement strategies on real-world information.

The coauthors warning that AI-based approaches ought to complement, quite than substitute, ground-based information assortment. They level out that floor reality information are needed for coaching fashions within the first place, and that even the very best sensor information can solely seize some — however not all — of the outcomes of curiosity. However AI, they nonetheless consider, will be useful for measuring sustainability indicators in areas the place floor reality measurements are scarce or unavailable.

“[SDG] indicators have large implications for policymakers, but ‘key information are scarce, and infrequently scarcest in locations the place they’re most wanted,’ as a number of of our crew members wrote in a latest Science overview article. Through the use of considerable, low-cost, and incessantly up to date sensor information as inputs, AI may help plug these information gaps. Such enter information sources embrace publicly accessible satellite tv for pc photographs, crowdsourced street-level photographs, Wikipedia entries, and cell phone information, amongst others,” the coauthors mentioned.

Future work

Within the quick time period, the coauthors say that they’re targeted on elevating consciousness of SustainBench throughout the machine studying neighborhood. Future variations of SustainBench are within the planning levels, probably with extra datasets and AI benchmarks.

“Two technical challenges stand out to us. The primary problem is to develop machine studying fashions that may cause about multi-modal information. Most AI fashions as we speak are inclined to work with single information modalities (e.g., solely satellite tv for pc photographs, or solely textual content), however sensor information typically is available in many types … The second problem is to design fashions that may reap the benefits of the big quantity of unlabeled sensor information, in comparison with sparse floor reality labels,” the coauthors mentioned. “On the non-technical aspect, we additionally see a problem in getting the broader machine studying neighborhood to focus extra efforts on sustainability purposes … As we alluded to earlier, we hope SustainBench makes it simpler for machine studying researchers to acknowledge the function and challenges of machine studying for sustainability purposes.”

For AI protection, ship information tricks to Kyle Wiggers — and make sure you subscribe to the AI Weekly e-newsletter and bookmark our AI channel, The Machine.

Thanks for studying,

Kyle Wiggers

AI Employees Author


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