The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Achieving the Overall Sustainable Development Goals: AI For Good

The United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a universal call to action to help reimagine a better and sustainable future for all. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) encompass the three pillars of sustainable development, namely the environment, society, and economy. According to the UN, these goals are at the heart of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” which seeks to holistically address the sustainability imperatives of tackling environmental issues, working to preserve the oceans and forests while dovetailing it with actions to end poverty and other deprivations as well as strategies that improve health and education, spur economic growth and reduce inequality.

The goals collectively translate to 169 individual targets. In conjunction with other enabling technologies, AI is expected to have an immediate and long-term impact on achieving many of these targets. In fact, according to a study published by Nature Communications, AI could enable the achievement of 79% of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), making it a key tool for facilitating resource efficiency in the coming years.

AI focuses on the intelligent components of learning, logical reasoning, problem-solving, decision-making, perception, pattern recognition, prediction, language, and interactive communication. These capabilities can be leveraged to ensure effective action for responsible consumption, resource management, and a sustainable productive economy that fosters a just, equal, and inclusive society.

On that note, here is an overview of a few implementations and possibilities that AI presents across various industries.

Agriculture Sector:
AI-based technologies have already begun to shape smart agricultural practices in India. Some Indian farmers are now leaning towards smart farming strategies powered by AI-enabled technologies. These include autonomous tractors equipped with GPS, digital cameras which can be used to plant crops, apply fertilizers, spray pesticides, manage weeds, determine the need for irrigation, and predict yield in more efficient ways than ever before. Moreover, accurate weather forecasting enabled by AI-powered data analytics enables farmers to manage their crops more effectively. With the introduction of humidity, temperature, and soil sensors, AI is now capable of predicting crop needs.

Healthcare Sector:
Healthcare, like any other industry, has begun to increasingly rely on sophisticated AI technology to gain efficiency and find optimal solutions. From automating tedious tasks to organizing stock, AI is assisting in making processes more precise, saving time, money, energy, and waste. In terms of sustainability, medical diagnosis systems that predict illness and guide timely interventions could usher in a healthier society. Customized drugs based on demographic profiles created with the assistance of AI, can further optimize pharmaceutical resource usage.

Manufacturing Sector:
The adoption of AI in manufacturing processes can lead to more sustainable manufacturing by reducing waste and the environmental impact of production. It can minimize the carbon footprint, and conserve energy and natural resources by optimizing processes. Furthermore, AI vision systems can detect errors in assembly lines that are invisible to the human eye, as well as safety flaws to prevent potential disasters.

Environmental Sector:
AI can potentially assess and predict the risk of environmental disasters by calculating and making decisions to mitigate their effects through the efficient use of sensing devices, data, and learning algorithms. Satellite mapping and image processing with AI-powered analytics can monitor land use, and forestry and trigger interventions where activities are likely to impact the environment. It can also help improve the efficiency of renewable energy sources by balancing electricity supply and demand needs in real-time, optimizing energy use and storage.

Aside from the applications mentioned above, AI has the potential to be a critical tool in facilitating a circular economy and the development of smart cities that use resources efficiently. It can enhance and accelerate the development of new products, components, and materials for a circular economy. In addition, AI can increase asset utilization and product circulation by predicting demand and employing smart inventory management. Smart cities with AI-based traffic management of renewable energy-powered smart vehicles can also dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

Towards a Sustainable AI
AI will assist us in building more efficiently, using resources more sustainably, and effectively reducing and managing waste, thereby achieving some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable AI tailored to the specific situation in each society is a key requirement to succeed. Considering the dependency on enormous amounts of data to train the system and the susceptibility to bias, it is critical that appropriate safeguards and practices are in place for AI systems. Like any technology, honest intent coupled with ethical implementation is key for AI to fulfil its potential. While AI as a technology shows great promise, it is critical that the ethical and human aspects are addressed transparently to ensure its success in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).