Artificial Intelligence and The Environment
AI BluePrints for 16 Environmental Projects  Pioneering Sustainability

Introduction by Cindy Mason
AI Researcher, Pioneer of the first US and international workshops on AI and Environment/Sustainability.**

At the end of January, 2019, at the time I write this, two new colors for heat maps have been  added and the southern hemisphere is seeing new records for heat with each passing day.   We hear frequent reports of pollution in the news and people struggle just to get along.   When the Paris agreement finally happened it seemed like a miracle, until the US pulled out.   Then the U.N. and World Meteorology Organization made an announcement that the early figures were wrong, and its worse than we thought.  “Climate scientists have rung the alarm about the urgent need for drastic environmental action to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5°C” [1].  

In 1995 I created the first international gathering of AI and Environment scientists, but the papers from this meeting were ‘lost’ due to a server crash and were never published.  It was another 16 years before the next US AI meeting on the environment took place.  In this volume we finally make the first papers on AI and the Environment available to the public.  It establishes a time line for initial efforts to use AI on everything from managing fire fighting resources to storm alerts and the automatic indexing and archiving of legal and policy documents.

The good news is we have a lot more technology now. And as Tierney Thys, the National Geographic explorer said, we have a lot of caring technologists. But wait, there’s more.  Along side technologists, scientists, educators and administrators from all different disciplines and all areas of the world are learning how to use these technologies for the public good.   This volume of papers is being made public for you.   The hope is that in this book you will see an idea, a software architecture, or connect the dots to something or someone and give rise to something real that helps us now - in our cities, in our classrooms, in our world.

To get the know-how and technology you no longer need to be part of an elite AI club.  Much of the software and data is available through online libraries and education videos.  For instance, take a look at the project “Argo Float”[2], with over 3000 ocean-going robots sampling our seas, it has a posted a data collection on the net that anyone can access, including an active map of the locations of each robot.   Another inspiring project, although not specific to AI, is the Rasperry Pi project[3].  Its a small unix (Raspian) computer that fits in the palm of your hand, yet it has usb slots, an hdmi port and bluetooth/wifi.  They can be stacked, mounted on a wall, or put in your pocket. They can also be used to create hybrid AI systems where conventional and AI systems work together.

Machine learning and big data mean we can make sense of what our sensors are telling us.  Common sense reasoning and knowledge mean we can quickly make decisions in the face of uncertainty and incomplete information.  AI automation can run 24/7 and robots can take us where we cannot go.   When Fukushima happened, robots went where we could not go, to show us what happened.   So yes, AI is helpful.  We might even say AI technology is part of Darwin’s next generation.

But we need more than technology to solve the problems we face - we need cooperation.  We need more ideas on how to bring together governments, every day people, and technology to cooperatively work together.  For example, distributed crowd sourced weather data collection in Canada is helping create new ways of predicting storms and modeling climate.  There is a phone app called ‘litterati’ that lets anyone upload a snapshot of litter they find so it can be catalogued to track how much trash, what kind, and where it came from so that cities, packers/shippers, and governments have real data for prevention, budgets and decision making.  For a good reference on why cooperation offers economic advantages over competition, Henry Lieberman, an early supporter of the AI and Environment work and co-chair of the first international gathering, has focused on the problems and advantages of cooperating over competing in his book, “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”  If you’re working on the politics and government issues related to the environment this resource could be helpful in making the case to act cooperatively.[4]

The people who contributed to this volume on AI and the Environment  The First Papers, are very special.  Each one was ahead of their time and overcame obstacles to do the work and to share about it.   When I wrote the proposal for this work I was at NASA Ames working on cooperative software agent systems.  My projects at NASA included robotic telescopes and planetary exploration, which had little to do with AI and the Environment, although my sense is that when the the crew of Apollo 17 took a picture of Earth from space (the Blue Marble) we can never really think of space again without also thinking of Earth. The idea to organize an international AI gathering on the Environment took priority over everything else I was doing. I cannot really explain the obsession because there was little support, and instead there were many obstacles… few people seemed to realize back then how important it was to be focused on such a project.   I am grateful to give this collection of papers to the world now.  Please, by all means, share it as often and and as widely as you can.   Because you never know where a good idea will come from.   Listen to your instincts.   They’re some of the best intelligence we’ve got.   

Good luck to us all.

**The First AAAI Workshop on AI and the Environment (U.S.)
**The First IJCAI Workshop on AI and the Environment (International)

[1] UN Environment Report, 08 Oct. 2018,, accessed Jan. 23, 2019.
[2]  accessed Feb. 7, 2019.
[3]  accessed Feb. 3, 2019.
[4] Lieberman and Fry, “Why Can't We All Just Get Along?: How Science Can Enable A More Cooperative Future.” USA, 2018. Accessed Jan. 31, 2019.