Artificial Intelligence

Promoting sustainability with the help of AI

May 26, 2021

A recent report by Ontario Tech suggests that there will be 13.5 million people living in the Los Angeles metropolitan area by 2025. Los Angeles will by no means be the largest metropolitan area in the world; that is projected to be Tokyo, with an astonishing 36 million people, dwarfing even Mumbai, at 26 million. By 2100, the numbers will be staggering, with Mumbai at 67 million; but it will still not be the largest city in the world. Mumbai will be dwarfed by Lagos, whose population will be at an unbelievable 88 million.

Thinking about what life will be like in emergent megacities now unfamiliar to most Europeans (Maputo, Mozambique, which in 2100 will have a population of 21 million and will be the same size at Shanghai at that point, or Luanda, Angola and Bamako, Mali, which will both be at or near 23 million) is a difficult task. Angola currently has among the lowest life expectancy in the world, with among the highest infant mortality, and today the African Economic Outlook organization suggests that Angola requires 4.5 million tons a year of grain but grows only about half of the maize it needs, a fifth of the rice and about a twentieth of the wheat it needs. It is difficult to see Luanda, whose current population is nearing seven million, can cope with a population three times that size.

But the same thing holds for even the most developed areas. Los Angeles is the home of industries famous world-wide, like the Hollywood entertainment complex; yet shortages of water may spell disaster for the region. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, recently held a press conference on dry land on the bottom of Lake Mendocino, which normally would be 40 feet (13 meters) underwater; and Lake Mendocino is part of the precarious system of lakes and underground aquifers that provide water to cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Hoover Dam and other massive engineering projects were projected to provide ample water to the southwest of the US for centuries, but the engineers who created such projects could not have foreseen the massive growth of the region, nor the rapid climate change that has led to drought. Like Cape Town, South Africa, Las Vegas and Los Angeles may be cities which climate change makes uninhabitable – in the same way that climate change forced the Anasazi tribes of native Americans to leave the huge settlements at Mesa Verde in the times before invading Europeans arrived on the continent.

Clearly, we as the human family will need to bring every conceivable tool in our arsenal to bear upon these problems, including decreases in consumption, increases in the availability of family planning, and a sustained and systematic attempt to reduce carbon emissions. And water supplies must be managed and increased to all these megacities if they are to remain habitable as their populations increase in the manner that demographers think likely.

And in each of these efforts, artificial intelligence will play an important role. To focus on only one topic – desalination – Machine learning and process automation prospects in desalination. The standard models used to predict how the membranes used in desalination perform have substantial limitations, which can be overcome by both artificial neural network and genetic algorithm approaches; in a similar manner, the optimization of output capacity of desalination plants can be achieved through the statistical approaches used in artificial intelligence methods. Deterministic solutions, of the sort that engineers normally use, can’t handle the complexity involved in modeling the solutions for this sort of modeling. The same is true for the energy solutions of the future – large-scale solar installations, fusion reactors, and the like.

We may be facing a difficult future, but we can hope that human ingenuity will pull us through – and a part of such ingenuity will be artificial intelligence.

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