Mar 23, 2020

Artificial Intelligence for Sustainability

The paper examines the various emerging and existing use case of AI for sustainability solutions in Indian context.

In light of discussion around AI’s role in the global environmental sphere, this paper first presents emerging use cases of AI for sustainability in both the global and Indian context. This paper is based on inputs from the AI for Sustainability lab as well as desk research. The aim of the paper is to identify the likely challenges and risks in the use of AI for sustainability in order to initiate policy discourse in India.

The subsequent section discusses the different categories under which AI applications have been developed in relation to environmental sustainability challenges in general. The following section outlines the emerging applications and use cases of AI for sustainability in India specifically, focusing on five areas—agriculture, energy, environmental monitoring, wildlife conservation, and water systems. This is followed by a section on the analysis of challenges and risks posed by the development and deployment of AI-based technologies.

Key findings

  • Even within a single country, the interaction between the different elements and stakeholders in the case of AI use will vary. It is therefore necessary to take stock of the sociological contexts in which real world AI applications are being embedded.
  • Development of AI- based applications in agriculture, smart cities and infrastructure, smart mobility and transportation are likely to have a direct impact on sustainability and the environment.
  • The use of AI raises complex, ethical concerns around collection of data, loss of human control, bias in algorithms, data- driven monopolisation, and the resource costs of developing and deploying energy- intensive AI systems.
  • Life-cycle assessments of AI’s energy use, material use and waste generation will eventually be needed to weigh against its environmental and sustainability outcomes for different areas.


AI & Society


Vikrom Mathur

Vikrom believes that interdisciplinary research on cultural attitudes towards nature and technology need to inform contemporary debates on societal futures. His research interests include the governance of emerging technologies, social and cultural dimensions of technological transitions, cultural perceptions of environmental risk, dynamics between science and policy, and Cultural Theory. He is currently setting up India’s first Urban Living Lab in Panjim as a platform to design, test and fine-tune socio-technical innovation in local urban spaces. He has a PhD from the Institute of Science, Society, and Innovation at the University of Oxford.

Zaheb Ahmad

Zaheb is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research. His work explores institutions and governance arrangements in India, anchoring people-centred approaches to the environment and data. Zaheb is currently working on setting up an 'urban living lab' in Panaji - an experimental governance approach, established at the boundaries between research, innovation and policy, for urban sustainability transitions in India. Zaheb holds an LL.M with specialisation in Environmental Law from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and B.L.S, LL.B from Government Law College, University of Mumbai. His Master’s research deconstructs the functioning of the Environmental Impact Assessment mechanism in India and explores environmental justice implications for impacted communities.

Angelina Chamuah

Angelina Chamuah is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research. Her current work examines the social and ethical implications of AI and other emerging technologies in India. She has been studying the impact of AI in India across different sectors including agriculture, healthcare, policing, and finance. Key to her research are questions of values and interests that drive socio-technological imaginaries of AI and the future of AI governance in India. In addition to AI, her research interests include the role of Big Tech companies in India, politics of data and human-machine interaction. She holds an M.Phil in Sociology and a Masters in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics, DU.