A planetary computer for Earth

Imagine if we had a planetary computer that could tell us exactly
what we needed to do to protect Planet Earth, a system that was capable
of providing us information about every tree, every species, all of our natural resources. How could we use all that data [LUCAS JOPPA
Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft]
to build a better world? True innovation hinges on our
ability to see things differently. It means breaking boundaries
and looking between the lines in an effort to solve some of
the world’s toughest challenges. [The Future from an Alternative Perspective] [ALT] Planetary scale innovation
is needed now more than ever. Because if we truly
care about each other, then we have got to
care about this planet that we all call home. And that is something that we
have been failing at for far too long. [OUR CHANGING PLANET] Consider this. In the
time since I’ve been alive, the human population
has almost doubled. Our species now uses more
than 70% of all land on Earth to provide our food, our fiber, our water, minerals, and our energy. And these activities are
fundamentally transforming the natural systems we all depend on. Species are going extinct tens to hundreds of times faster
than they have before. And we’re changing our
climate systems in ways that could have catastrophic impacts. No matter how you
view it, we’re now facing one of the most existential challenges our species has ever
had to think about. We have to somehow
figure out how to mitigate and adapt to rapidly changing climates, ensure resilient water supplies, sustainably feed a human population rapidly growing to 10 billion, all while stemming a global and
catastrophic loss of biodiversity. We may know how fast
species are going extinct, but we don’t actually know
how many species there are or how many trees there are. We’re facing our last real opportunity to ask ourselves the most
fundamental of questions— how are we going to solve
these planetary-scale challenges? And so as a citizen, as a scientist, and as Microsoft’s
Chief Environmental Officer, I think the most
important question to ask is not just what
technology should be built, but how technology
should actually be used. [THE POWER OF AI] We’re talking about a wide
range of environmental concerns. These represent the world’s
biggest data challenges, the world’s biggest
compute challenges, and the world’s biggest
algorithmic challenges. And that’s why we need solutions, like artificial intelligence, that
are capable of being deployed at a planetary scale. So what is artificial intelligence,
and how can it help us? Well, at its core, AI
is just an algorithm that solves for an objective function. It solves a problem. And the biggest problem
we need to solve right now is how we as humans can
continue to grow and prosper without destroying the very ecosystems that we all depend on. So while we’re a long way
from having all the answers, what I can tell you is that our
vision for building a better future is already well underway. Using AI and the
power of cloud computing, we can now convert
what used to be considered inconceivable amounts of data about Earth’s natural systems into actionable insights and information. And that intersection is where
our greatest innovations are occurring. Most of our computer scientists
know a whole lot about technology but just a little about the environment. Our partners, though, know a
whole lot about the environment but aren’t so deep on technology. [AI FOR EARTH] It’s that potential of people
and technology coming together that inspired us to create AI for Earth, a platform that
provides cloud computing, open source tools, and AI support to individuals and organizations
striving to solve environmental and
sustainability challenges, to spark people’s curiosity
and accelerate their work. Take, for example, the
Chesapeake Bay Conservancy, a small nonprofit with a mandate to protect one of the most important
watersheds in the United States. In order to do that, though, they
and their partners needed to create a high-resolution map of
where all the forests, fields, urban areas, and
waterways actually were. They were able to do that. But it took them well over a year and $1 million to complete the job. And by the time they were done, the landscape had already changed, and the map was out of date. Through a partnership with AI for Earth,
they were able to rebuild that 64,000 square mile map for a fraction of the cost
in a fraction of the time. And this is just one
of hundreds of projects that AI for Earth is empowering in areas like agriculture, water, biodiversity, and climate change with organizations all around the world. Take Wild Me. They’re using
computer vision and machine learning to convert wildlife
photographs and videos into data that can be
used to protect species on the verge of extinction. And then we have Ag-Analytics, which combines farm data
with machine learning to help farmers improve
the sustainability of their practices while also maximizing their yields. And these are just a few examples of what’s possible
when people are empowered to scale their ideas
and their solutions. One of the most difficult
things to get across is just how much work it takes to turn something that
provides such power and make it so simple to use. But that’s really
the beauty of AI, right? When it’s done well, it just
disappears into the background. AI for Earth’s approach
has the potential to improve not just the environment,
but also the economy. Research shows that deploying
AI in just a few sectors has the potential to zero
out the carbon emissions of Japan, Canada,
and Australia combined, while also increasing GDP by 4.4% and creating almost 40 million new jobs. [A PLANETARY COMPUTER] Those opportunities are
what have motivated us to start laying the foundations
for what I’ve come to think of as the world’s first planetary computer. We’re talking about
an AI-driven platform that puts the full
power of Earth-scale data right at people’s fingertips, allowing them to come together and solve some of the greatest environmental
and sustainability challenges we face today. Sure, it’s an ambitious idea. But its promise is unprecedented. For the first time, we would
be able to fully understand what resources are where, how fast they’re being depleted, and more importantly, what
could and should we be doing with all of our natural resources. But this won’t be
built as a crystal ball. Instead, it will be a global
portfolio of applications connecting trillions of data points to computing power and machine learning capable of converting that all into contextualized information. This is what Microsoft
is innovating towards, what we’re working with partners
all around the world to help scale. The bottom line is if we
want to live on a healthy planet that provides a
prosperous future for us all, then we need to know
what it’s made up of and what it’s capable of. [JOINING FORCES] But before we do that, we have to
have a conversation about ourselves, about the qualities that
make us unique as a species, about compassion and empathy, and a drive for innovation. We have to agree
that the objective function for the human species on Earth is to minimize our environmental impacts while maximizing the overall
global human experience. And the good news is
that if we can agree on that, then technology can help
take us the rest of the way. The future is ours to decide. [The Future from an Alternative Perspective] [ALT] [Microsoft]


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