#burningplatformforclimatechange Part 4

The media is filled with criticisms about what has or hasn’t been done to address climate change, and how difficult it will be to turn things around. Everywhere you look, there is more and more dispair about the future. With so many challenges ahead , it can be distressing, overwhelming and sometimes seemingly futile.

When we look at climate change with a futurist mindset however, this different lens produces some interesting possibilities.

The Background

The world may be on the brink of climate change, but it is also  brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another, and on a scale that we have never seen before. The emergence of robotics and artificial intelligence is already having a signifcant impact and the rate of advancement is occuring at lightning speed

Consider this:

We wont experience 100 years of advancement in the 21st century -it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).

Kurzwell as quoted in Big Think

This is due to the exponential growth of artificial intelligence, which is also being used to create solutions that human’s have as yet been unable to achieve.

Possibilities

Take this great story from Yuval Noah Harari in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century about chess.

On 7 December 2017 a critical milestone was reached, not when a computer defeated a human at chess – that’s old news – but when Google’s AphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program. Stockfish 8 was the world’s computer chess champion for 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as to decades of computer experience. It was able to calculate 70 million chess positions per second. In contrast, AlphaZero performed only 80,000 such calculations per second, and its human creators never taught it any chess strategies – not even standard openings. Rather AlphaZero used the latest machine-learning principles to self-learn chess by playing against itself. Nevertheless, out of a hundred games the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish, AlphaZero won twenty-eight and tied seventy-two. It didn’t lose even once. Since AlphaZero learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to human eyes. They may well be considered creative, if not downright genius.

Can you guess how long it took AlphaZero to learn chess from scratch, prepare for a match against Stockfish, and develop its genius instincts?

Four hours. That’s not a typo. For centuries, chess was considered one of the crowning glories of human intelligence. AlphaZero went from utter ignorance to creative mastery in four hours, without the help of any human guide.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Harari, Y, p43

This provides an enormous source of hope for the future of our planet’s issues. Why? Because the essence of chess is a game of strategy, and reversing climate change is also one very big, criticial strategy game. Every strategy that is proposed by researchers has multiple intended and unintended consequences, that will also be influenced by strategies put in place by similar researchers and governments all over the world. Self learning artificial intelligence, may be able to “play” millions of “what if” games to predict unintended consequences and help us to avoid pitfalls. It may also have the creative genius to identify solutions that we could never imagine on our own.

The capacity of robotics and artificial intelligence is also creating new solutions at an incredible rate, and the cost of this technology is becoming cheaper and cheaper.

Take the example of laboratory grown hamburger. Yes, you read correctly – a hamburger grown cell by cell. In a previous post the impact of cattle farming, and consuming meat and dairy was raised as a practice that has a very large impact on the volume of greenhouse gas emissions. How hard will it be to convince everyone to stop eating steak, schnitzels and burgers in order to reduce the impact on the environment? One might consider this to be a very big battle. But what if the meat did not involve the raising and slaughter of animals?

Envionmentally “clean” meat – a hamburger – was first grown, and eaten, in 2013. It cost $330,000. Four years later, the price has come down to $11 and soon it will be cheaper than slaughtered meat. This might not be your ideal solution – but its an example of how technology is already on its way to provide affordable solutions that you may never have thought of. There are also many examples of technology becoming cheaper and cheaper over time, as well as providing solutions that are cheaper than existing practices.

Here’s another one

Instead of looking to some big mechanical engineering solution to excessive carbon dioxide in the world, biologist Joanne Chory believes that plants can be engineered to do it. She believes that photosynthesis itself can be exploited to create a biological solution to carbon capture. Plants are already good at sucking up CO2, and she believes they can be genetically engineered to do it much better, and hold on to the CO2 for much longer. She is working on engineering the world’s crop plants to have bigger, deeper roots made of a natural waxy substance called suberin, which will trick them into fighting climate change as they grow. But we’re not talking about small changes here, she believes they can contribute a whopping 20 to 46 percent reduction in excess CO2 emissions annually, as well as reducing some of the soil quality depletion from agricultural practices.

These are 3 examples of how our rapidly advancing technology may be able to come up with broad scale solutions to climate change that we couldn’t come up with on our own. And who knows what next year will bring, when our technological advancements will have doubled from this year and continue to double every 12 months?

The point is, that when our sense of the world is full of dispair, there is good reason to have hope. In response to climate change the most important thing is to act with intention – choosing the most impactful strategies that you believe you can manage and having compassion for those who have less capacity for change, whilst living with hope for a better world.

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Lisa Cutout
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2 Comments

  1. Doug B on January 26, 2020 at 6:35 am

    Good on you Lisa this is great reading!

    • Lisa Cockington on January 26, 2020 at 8:10 am

      Thanks Doug, all is not bleak and there are some fascinating times ahead!

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