The Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations describe a normative framework which states what future development until 2030 should strive for. On a more abstract level a basic definition describes sustainable development as

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Alone through the consumption of energy, AI technologies already have a (negative) impact on sustainability questions.

What AI applications already exist, are researched or are at least thinkable from which sustainability would benefit?


The paper The role of artificial intelligence in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (2020, published in Nature) should contain the information you're looking for.

In the introduction, the authors write

Here we present and discuss implications of how AI can either enable or inhibit the delivery of all 17 goals and 169 targets recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Relationships were characterized by the methods reported at the end of this study, which can be summarized as a consensus-based expert elicitation process, informed by previous studies aimed at mapping SDGs interlinkages. A summary of the results is given in Fig. 1 and the Supplementary Data 1 provides a complete list of all the SDGs and targets, together with the detailed results from this work.

For example, as stated in the supplementary data, goal 1 is

End poverty in all its forms everywhere

and the first target (1.1.) of goal 1 is

By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day 

Then the authors suggest that, according to their studies, AI may act as an inhibitor or enabler (i.e. it may be used to fight poverty) for this target.

We identified in the literature studies suggesting that AI may be an inhibitor for this target, due to the potential increase in inequalities which would hinder the achievement of this goal (1). Other references however identify AI as an enabler for this goal, in the context of using satellite data analysis to track areas of poverty and to foster international collaboration (2).

Therefore, techniques for satellite data analysis are one of the AI techniques that may be used to tackle suistainability issues.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. I am aware of this paper but I am rather disappointed of its vagueness. The poverty example demonstrates this: IMHO tracking down areas of poverty is by far not the crucial point in overcome poverty. $\endgroup$ – cknoll Feb 22 '20 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ @cknoll "and to foster international collaboration". I gave you one of many examples. You can find other examples in the supplementary data. I doubt you will find something a lot more concrete than their study. Unfortunately, it seems to me that people don't care much about these issues, especially people in the computer science community. $\endgroup$ – nbro Feb 22 '20 at 19:32

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