Addressing the effects of AI on nature

The Sustainable AI Lab of the University of Bonn is on a mission at COP26 in Glasgow

Darwin’s Tree of Life (just think).

While there is a growing number of research publications directed towards Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the Sustainable Development Goals, there is little research addressing, the often hidden, environmental costs of AI. The Sustainable AI Lab of the University of Bonn (Germany) addresses this topic and is present at COP26 with a unique artwork to remind people of what nature is doing and that AI is getting in the way of this. The head of the Lab, Prof. Aimee van Wynsberghe, will speak at the conference on November 10th at 11:00.

AI and environmental injustice

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be an important tool for sustainable development to minimize energy usage in large factories or to predict natural disasters before they happen. However, these uses can also have a downside. For example, training and tuning AI models produces carbon emissions that harm the environment.

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The Sustainable AI Lab team is honoured by the invitation of the UN to have a presence in Glasgow at COP26 (Conference of the Parties). This presence provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the environmental injustice issues related to AI, not only the impacts of making and using AI on climate change, but also who will bear the burden of these costs. To do so, the team is very excited to work together with artist Roosmarijn Pallandt to bring a new perspective on the much needed discussion around the development of AI and the impact this has on nature and climate change.

The artwork “Lights sounds Air”

Every night, after the delegations have left, the entire conference space will be immersed in a sound composition made from the vibrations of plants and trees as they pull CO2 out of the atmosphere, transforming light into oxygen. This art installation is made possible by recording the sounds of plants and trees in the UK using sophisticated microphones, allowing us to hear the sounds of nature repairing itself that are otherwise impossible to hear with the human ear.

“With the artwork we are making it possible to hear and feel the restorative power of nature that is normally hidden from us. We believe that it is easier to ignore what we are not aware of and so far that’s what makes it possible to ignore the effects of AI on nature,” says Prof. Aimee van Wynsberghe. “We can no longer do this; the effects of climate change have gone too far and we shouldn’t see AI as the solution to all our problems. The artwork brings us closer to nature and makes us think about how AI is constraining nature’s ability to heal itself.”

Regenerating the entire conference space at night, the artwork alludes to the collective power of imagination and the possibility of re-evaluating our place in the universe. “This is an amazing example of what the Bonn Sustainable AI Lab, and collaborative partners, have to offer. The creativity of artists helps us to explore new research fields and to think outside our regular patterns,” says Aimee van Wynsberghe.

IMAGE CREDIT: Guus Schoonewille

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