The propagation of artificial intelligence (AI) is making a significant impact in society, changing the way how we work, live and communicate. AI today is allowing the world to diagnose diseases and develop clinical pathways. It is also being used to match individuals’ skill sets with job openings and create smart traffic that leads to reduction of pollution. There are many examples AI technologies applications in the sustainable growth of the planet and organizations. It is time to solve some of the world’s biggest problems with emerging technologies such as AI. Artificial intelligence should work for the planet, not against it.
According to the United Nations (UN) there are 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to transform our world:
Source: About the Sustainable Development Goals
Many of the 17 goals apply directly to the environment and humans’ influence over it. Are we a part of the people or organizations that influence sustainable growth? The short answer is yes. I firmly believe that they exist several types of influences on sustainable growth, in a direct impact and indirect impact. The types of impact can be applied to one organization and its products/solutions or can be applied to a chain of organizations.
Let's take a look at Waze
Millions and millions of people use Waze to find the best route. Maybe you did not even think about this, but while you are using Waze, you are becoming a part of sustainable growth. Waze is not just about increasing safety, decreasing the congestion and optimizing the traffic flow but its also about carbon dioxide emissions reduction. When I started thinking about Waze and their impact, I came to the next thought: "If I am driving a diesel car, Waze is directing me to the less congested roads, as a result, I will not produce a lot of pollution, because I will avoid the traffic jam.
But what if I am driving an electric car? Am I not part of sustainable growth? The answer is: "No, I am still part of it!" If Waze helps me avoid traffic jams, I will drive on roads with less cars, so my vehicle will not be a cause of more significant traffic congestions. This is my indirect impact on sustainable growth and I can make this thanks to Waze and AI technologies.
Another example - Solar panels
Because of the IoT sensors attached to solar plants, companies get the opportunity to collect data for machine learning monitoring and predictions. Some of the benefits while applying AI technologies are the remote inspection of sites, predictive maintenance and energy resource forecasting. For example, the company "XYZ" is developing machine learning models for companies that are using solar panels, this is making a direct impact on sustainable growth.
Taking a deeper look into the topic, we can assume that the company "XYZ" is using enterprise software, e.g. SAP. So SAP by providing their ERP solution to the company "XYZ", because of this it is making indirect impact on an overall sustainable growth, cause its allowing company "XYZ" to handle all the business processes, e.g. accounting, sales, hr, projects, etc. Even if you are an accountant or head of human resources inside the organizations that produce semi-finished products for other companies that are building electric cars, you are also making an indirect impact on sustainable growth.
Direct and indirect AI impact
AI companies that provide direct impact
Based on the examples above, we can split AI solutions into two categories - those who are making a direct impact and those who are making an indirect impact. Some good examples of AI's direct impact companies in climate change is Microsoft, Agder Energi, and Powel AS. They create a more effective, flexible and autonomous grid, which will enable energy-saving and more comfortable integration of renewable energy to the grid mix.
AI companies that provide indirect impact
It is hard to measure the impact of AI companies in sustainable growth but we can defiantly say that RPA solutions are automating the processes in almost all industries, by allowing organizations to reduce operational costs and increase efficiency, which in the end, influences a sustainable growth chain.
There are a lot of companies in the AI area, using natural language processing and machine learning models to build Virtual Employees Assistants. By 2021, Gartner predicts that 25% of digital workers will use at least one virtual employee assistant (VEA) daily. It means that AI technologies and their indirect impact will play a massive role in making people more productive & efficient. As a result, people will have more time for innovations and sustainable growth. If we understand the impact on sustainable growth and capabilities of AI technologies, we can focus on things that really matter and achieve better results.
Defining the technology strategies inside organizations, we should take into consideration the effect AI will have on sustainability outcomes and growth. Both types of AI solutions can have a significant impact on any organisation's processes efficiency. AI solutions with direct impact can provide short-term benefits, while AI solutions with indirect impact will provide long-term benefits.
For technology companies
The technology companies realize their role in sustainable growth and that is why they are creating the core products and services. They are also trying to accelerate sustainable growth, for example, AWS launched the program “Hour of Code”, which allows millions of students to get the first steps in coding, create new solutions and later get a more technical and better paid job.
Another example is how Microsoft started the program “AI for Earth”, for sharing a small part of their vision in accelerating sustainable growth. The program allows you to get new knowledge, grants, access to cloud computing, AI services and access to many more features.
It is the responsibility of each big corporate to start doing something in terms of sustainable growth.
All type of investors should extend their portfolio with companies that addressing sustainability challenges, with direct impact and indirect impact. Investments could speed up the evolution implications – and the commercial opportunity – of investments in technologies of sustainable growth.