Associate Professor in
Sustainable Development at
KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Tell us about your first encounter with artificial intelligence (AI)?
I have been fascinated, for a long time, about the fast evolution of AI and digitalization and their effects on a broad range of sectors.
What is your competence within the field of AI?
My competence is the understanding of how AI might affect our societies, the environment and the economy. I have co-developed studies on how AI can affect the achievement of all Sustainable Development Goals.
Why did you develop an interest in AI?
Because nowadays one cannot understand and investigate future challenges and opportunities in the sustainable development sphere without understanding the opportunities (and threats) that AI might pose to it.
Can you recommend a relevant book or film about AI?
Max Tegmark, Life 3.0
Why should we, or should we not, be afraid of AI?
Our review of relevant evidence on how AI might affect the achievement of the 169 Targets of the Sustainable Development Goals shows that AI may act as an enabler on 134 targets (79%) across all SDGs, generally through a technological improvement which may allow to overcome certain present limitations. However, 59 targets (35%, also across all SDGs) may experience a negative impact from the development of AI.
Therefore, given the right choices, AI might be broadly beneficial to Sustainable Development. However, if AI development is left uncontrolled, the great wealth that AI-powered technology has the potential to create may go mainly to those already well-off and educated, while job displacement leaves others worse off. Furthermore, the growing economic importance of AI may result in increased inequalities due to the unevenly distributed educational and computing resources throughout the world. Furthermore, the existing biases in the data used to train AI algorithms may result in the exacerbation of those biases, eventually leading to increased discrimination.
Which field, in your opinion, has the most to benefit from AI – and why?
Our study shows that nearly all fields have the potential to benefit from AI. Of my particular interest is the potential impact of AI on the energy and climate transition. AI can potentially enable smart and low-carbon societies, encompassing a range of interconnected technologies such as electrical autonomous vehicles and smart appliances that can automatize demand response in the electricity sector. AI can also help to integrate variable renewables by enabling smart grids that partially match electrical demand to times when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. However, at the same time, AI can have large effects on the global energy demand. Advanced AI technology, research and product design may require massive computational resources only available through large computing centers. Some estimates suggest that the total electricity demand of information and communications technologies (ICT) could require up to 20% of the global electricity demand by 2030, from around 1% today. Furthermore, the increased digitalization of strategic infrastructure presents some clear cybersecurity challenges.
How should the use of AI develop in the future?
The fast development of AI needs to be supported by the necessary regulatory insight and oversight for AI-based technologies to enable sustainable development. Failure to do so could result in gaps in transparency, safety and ethical standards.
Why should participants tune in on your presentation during AI+?
Our presentation will present a bird-eye view on how AI might affect all spheres of Sustainable Development, as recognized by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Fransesco Fuso-Nerini is a speaker at the AI+ virtual conference 2020.