How AI is leading to a more sustainable world

At first sight, sustainability and technology might seem to be diametric opposites. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Artificial intelligence (AI), for example, can bring added value for companies looking to make their activities more sustainable.

Tons of data

Technology and sustainability are without doubt two trends which are becoming ever more visible in our lives and in business processes. Lazlo Belgrado, Chief Investment Strategist at KBC Asset Management, sees a link between the two trends.

“Artificial intelligence is a broad container term for technology in which computers mimic human intelligence, for example with logical thinking and problem-solving. That technology can be very useful for businesses, which are sitting on mountains of data.

AI enables them to analyse this data quickly and efficiently, in turn generating practical solutions for real-world problems. AI can thus help companies to address challenges around sustainability in a practical way.”

AI can help companies to address challenges around sustainability in a practical way.

Lazlo Belgrado - Chief Investment Strategist

Use of AI in sustainable solutions

According to Lazlo Belgrado, the power of AI in the context of sustainability can be clearly demonstrated. “Take the challenge of energy-efficiency: AI enables you to determine the moments at which you are consuming a lot of energy. Based on the energy supply, electricity meters could tell you the best time to charge your electric vehicle or turn on the washing machine. This could enable wind or solar energy to be distributed efficiently.”

Another challenge is mobility. Lazlo Belgrado: “Autonomous vehicles could be used as a kind of taxi that people can call up using an app. The system then summons the taxi that is closest to hand. People then no longer need to have a car themselves, helping us ensure that we don’t manufacture too many cars. Autonomous vehicles could also reduce the pressure on parking space, reduce the number of transportation movements in cities, increase traffic safety and, given the lower production, open the way for improved air quality.”

Agriculture also stands to benefit from AI. You can take decisions based on data gathered using AI, for example by discovering at an early stage whether certain crops are infected. Lazlo Belgrado completes the story with examples of automatic waste sorting, smart water management and customised clothing advice. “When companies invest in AI, that not only brings added value for those companies themselves, but also for the environment and society”, he concludes.

Ethics and technology can go hand in hand

There's no shortage of examples, but it still doesn't sit easily with some people. Isn't there an ethical tension between AI and sustainability? “I’d refer to what Professor Katleen De Stobbeleir from Vlerick Business School calls the ‘paradox-mindset’”, says Lazlo Belgrado.

“It’s not an ‘either, or’ recovery, it’s a ‘both ...and’ recovery. You look at both the opportunities that AI can bring and at the ethical frameworks within which that is possible.”

That’s also why KBC focuses in its own SRI methodologies on data privacy and protection of personal data. “Data gathering using AI can lead to privacy infringements, and that’s something we want to avoid”, explains Lazlo Belgrado.

“So we rate companies on the way they collect, use and protect confidential data on customers, patients or visitors to their website. We also look at their cyber security measures and their transparency in sharing information with authorities,” Lazlo Belgrado adds.

You look at both the opportunities that AI can bring and at the ethical frameworks within which that is possible.

Lazlo Belgrado - Chief Investment Strategist

AI as a solution for more sustainability

To support this, KBC uses an ethically responsible framework for its AI solutions. “Data protection and privacy, equality and non-discrimination, responsibility, safety and transparency: those are the basic principles”, says Lazlo Belgrado. “We use training on AI to encourage employees to put those principles into practice.”

Provided you act from the basis of an ethically responsible framework, AI can be part of the solution for a sustainable world. AI is more than just chatbots which answer customers’ questions, or puts together a playlist of your favourite music. Sustainability and innovation go hand in hand. As an investor, you therefore stand to benefit by including AI in your investment strategy.

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This article is informational only and should not be considered investment advice.

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