The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) is causing big changes in various industries and how the world’s economy works. If we use AI effectively and responsibly, it can help create fair and sustainable growth, reduce poverty and inequality, protect the environment, and improve people’s lives. AI technology solutions have the potential to make a positive impact on society. Technologies such as natural language processing (NLP), deep learning, computer vision, machine learning, and others can bring about substantial improvements.
In the worldwide efforts to achieve sustainability, particularly in reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), AI can be a potent tool in promoting a circular economy and a more sustainable way of life. It can assist us in constructing things more efficiently, using resources in a sustainable manner, and improving management of waste and other important issues.
Integrating AI with sustainable development will enable all industries to create a better world. This means addressing present-day needs without jeopardizing the well-being of future generations in the face of challenges like climate change and others.
AI has the potential to bring about significant advancements in nearly every sector. Around the world, we’re already witnessing the positive impacts of AI adoption in these areas:
Transportation: Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) show promise in enhancing vehicle safety.
Healthcare: Biomedical researchers are using advanced AI techniques to expedite drug discovery by identifying chemicals, molecules, and compounds suitable for targeting specific diseases.
Finance: AI techniques are helping financial services companies better detect fraudulent or corrupt activities.
Insurance: AI applications like computer vision are streamlining the processing of claims and damage assessment.
Climate change: AI techniques are improving weather forecasting and playing a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions in energy systems.
What is Sustainable Development?
Sustainable development is a guiding principle for achieving human development objectives while ensuring the long-term capacity of natural systems to supply the resources and ecosystem services that support the economy and society.
What are the UN SDG Goals?
There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals:
- No Poverty
- Zero Hunger
- Good Health and Well-being
- Quality Education
- Gender Equality
- Clean Water and Sanitation
- Affordable and Clean Energy
- Decent Work and Economic Growth
- Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
- Reducing Inequality
- Sustainable Cities and Communities
- Responsible Consumption and Production
- Climate Action
- Life Below Water
- Life on Land
- Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
- Partnerships for the Goals
Let’s first briefly explore each goal.
No Poverty: Eradicate all forms of poverty, especially extreme poverty, involving swift resource mobilization and effective policy frameworks.
Zero Hunger: Eliminate all forms of malnutrition, with a focus on vulnerable populations in developing countries, by investing in agricultural research, technology, gene banks, and food reserves.
Good Health and Well-being: Enhance good health and well-being by reducing maternal mortality, preventing child deaths, and eradicating diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. This involves bolstering the health workforce and strengthening global risk management.
Quality Education: Ensuring everyone has the opportunity for quality education, vital for societal progress and global peace.
Gender Equality: Recognizing the importance of gender equality not just morally but economically, as it’s key to eradicating poverty and hunger.
Clean Water and Sanitation: Addressing the challenges of unsafe sanitation and lack of water resources, critical for avoiding climate-induced displacement.
Affordable and Clean Energy: Providing electricity access to the billion people without it through renewable and efficient energy sources.
Decent Work and Economic Growth: Creating a fair, productive economic environment, ensuring a decent living, economic growth, and sustainability.
Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure: Developing sustainable practices, policies that encourage sustainability, and more resources for innovation.
Reducing Inequality: Promoting economic growth, universal social protection, and shared benefits for all, primarily to reduce poverty.
Sustainable Cities and Communities: Tackling urban housing challenges and slum growth, aiming to improve living conditions.
Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensuring economic activities don’t harm the environment, human health, or cultural heritage.
Climate Action: Urgently limiting greenhouse gas emissions by increasing renewable energy and reducing energy consumption.
Life Below Water: Protecting marine biodiversity and coastal communities while mitigating the impact of excess nutrients.
Life on Land: Safeguarding biodiversity, combating desertification, sustainable forest management, and reversing land degradation.
Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Promoting global peaceful and just societies, reducing corruption, and enhancing the rule of law.
Partnerships for the Goals: Recognizing that achieving these goals requires collaboration between governments, civil society, and private companies on a global scale.
What challenges do the UN SDGs pose?
The UN SDGs present challenges due to their extensive scope and interrelated nature. They are interconnected, meaning achieving one goal necessitates progress on multiple others concurrently. This complexity makes it challenging for governments, businesses, NGOs, or individuals to focus on a single goal in isolation. Nevertheless, these challenges also open doors for innovation to address significant issues like poverty and climate change.
How AI Can Help Achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals?
Our planet is deteriorating at a faster pace than expected, with nations striving to find sustainable solutions. Compounding this issue is the concern that automation-driven technological advancements may lead to job scarcity.
What we require above all is a solution that harmonizes economic growth and sustainability. AI offers a promising path to support the SDGs by enhancing, not supplanting, human intelligence and abilities. Artificial intelligence can complement human efforts to attain the SDGs effectively.
Here are several ways to achieve sustainable goals using AI:
A recent study in Nature highlights the potential for AI-based technologies to enhance approximately 82% of the SDG’s societal outcome metrics. This includes addressing SDG 1 (poverty alleviation), SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), and SDG 11 (sustainable cities).
For instance, the use of interconnected technologies like electric autonomous vehicles and smart appliances with demand-response AI can reduce gas emissions in urban areas and lessen reliance on fossil fuels. Additionally, AI innovations, such as smart traffic lights, energy-efficient data center cooling systems, and AI-designed aircraft components, can cut carbon emissions by up to 40%, making AI a driving force in transitioning to a zero-carbon economy, especially in smart cities.
AI can significantly enhance agricultural efficiency. Predictive analytics empowers farmers to optimize the use of fertilizers and water resources for higher yields while mitigating risks through weather data analysis. This is crucial because traditional agriculture is a major source of carbon emissions, making AI a valuable tool in the battle against climate change.
Data Analysis and Prediction
AI empowers us to process vast amounts of data quickly and accurately, helping identify trends and make predictions. This capability is vital for monitoring progress and addressing issues related to poverty, hunger, health, and more.
AI aids in the fight against poverty by employing pattern recognition algorithms on satellite images. International organizations can now swiftly identify regions with high poverty levels in both urban and rural areas, supporting the UN’s “no poverty” goal. Stanford’s sustainability and AI lab, for example, combines high-resolution satellite imagery and advanced machine learning to assess the wealth of specific locations. By analyzing features like roads, farmlands, urban areas, and waterways, AI can identify correlations among impoverished areas, especially those in need due to natural disasters.
Enhancing Fraud Detection
The issue of fraud is of growing concern, and manual fraud detection struggles to keep pace with the vast amount of financial data. SDG Goal 16, focusing on justice and accountable institutions, necessitates a reduction in fraud at all levels.
Impact Assessment of Legislation
The achievement of UN SDGs relies heavily on public policy decisions. AI holds great promise in assessing the impacts of legislative proposals, offering quantitative analyses of their effects across economic, social, and environmental sectors, thus aiding in decision-making.
Enhancing Economic Efficiency
AI is playing a significant role across industries, automating tasks and providing insights into the future. In the food industry, AI is being leveraged to increase agricultural productivity by up to 70%, as reported by Microsoft. These algorithms also enable real-time forecasting of commodity prices and market trends, ensuring more efficient demand fulfillment. AI forecasting empower businesses, from agriculture to manufacturing, to plan ahead and meet demand more efficiently.
Enhancing Equality and AI in Emotions
Addressing the imperative challenges of equality, diversity, and self-determination, which includes combatting discrimination based on race, sexual identity, ethnicity, religion, and disabilities, is pivotal for fostering a more inclusive society for people worldwide.
For instance, McKinsey’s report highlights innovative initiatives like Affectiva, a spin-off from the MIT Media Lab, and Autism Glass, a Stanford research project. These efforts utilize AI to automate the recognition of emotions, providing social cues to aid communication within the autism spectrum. Additionally, there are innovations like alternative forms of identity authentication, such as driver’s licenses, for individuals who lack traditional means of identification.
AI assists in improving healthcare outcomes, from early disease diagnosis to treatment recommendations. It supports efforts to achieve SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being) by providing personalized medical insights and advancing research.
In conclusion, the future of AI holds significant potential to benefit society. However, maintaining transparency and obtaining consent are vital to safeguard human rights, particularly privacy, and to ensure the ethical use of algorithms that impact our daily lives. Furthermore, AI development should prioritize environmental sustainability through more efficient training methods.
The SDGs are a set of 17 global goals established by the United Nations to address a wide range of global challenges, including poverty, inequality, climate change, and environmental degradation.
AI has the potential to impact several SDGs, including those related to health, education, climate action, and economic growth.
Challenges include data privacy concerns, the digital divide, and ensuring that AI benefits are distributed equitably.