Can AI Save The Environment?

The coming revolution in Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds great promise for the future benefit of mankind. (Yeah, we know, there are pitfalls, but for purposes of this editorial, we’re writing about a potential positive.)

As we were listening the other day to an interview with the amazing Jensen Huang, the President and CEO of Nvidia, the chip company that is pioneering the AI revolution, in which he was saying that AI could shorten the cumbersome Phase I-IV trial periods for new drugs by years (not to mention that AI can be used to develop new drugs), it occurred to us that in the same way, AI could be used to shorten environmental review periods for the construction of new wind and solar power facilities and their transmission lines.

Right now, the biggest obstacles to clean energy becoming more prevalent across the U.S. are the environmentalists themselves. Clean energy advocates and companies are finding it’s one thing to build-out a wind and solar farm, but quite another to obtain the permits for transmission lines to carry the new energy to population centers because of cumbersome and time-consuming regulations and the opposition of environmental groups by lawsuits.

For example, our region could have had cheap and clean hydropower from Canada almost 10 years ago, but environmental groups in Maine filed lawsuit after lawsuit to stop the transmission lines from going through their state. Each and every suit has been dismissed, but here we are, almost a decade later, and we still do not have hydropower from Canada — and there is some question as to whether it ever will be accomplished.

Similarly, it took 17 years (that’s not a misprint) for regulatory approval for the construction of the largest wind project in the country in the New Mexico desert so that this clean energy can get to population centers in Arizona.

So it got us to thinking: Perhaps AI, which can accomplish billions of calculations in seconds, can help speed up the regulatory process so we can get these projects on-line ASAP.

Because here’s the problem: Environmentalists are now their own — and the environment’s — worst enemy. With the energy industry on-board with developing energy from renewable sources — even the big oil companies are looking at green and blue hydrogen production — the problem is that nothing can be built quickly because of the lengthy environmental review processes and laws (that allow lawsuits by the dozens) which can delay clean-energy projects for years and years.

But with each day’s news informing us of impending environmental catastrophe, it is obvious that we do not have time to waste. It also is becoming increasingly clear that we human beings are incapable of saving either ourselves or the natural world.

But perhaps the AI machines can do it for us — and if so, they will give literal meaning to the metaphorical term, “Deus ex machina.”

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