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 is an anthropologist of science and technology. His diverse research interests include the governance of emerging technologies, social and cultural dimensions of technological transitions, political and social contingencies on the production of scientific knowledge about Nature, cultural perceptions of environmental risk, dynamics between science and policy, and Cultural Theory. He has a PhD from the Institute of Science, Society, and Innovation at the University of Oxford. Vikrom is a Senior Fellow of the Observer Research Foundation & Associate Fellow of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Zaheb Ahmad

Zaheb is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research where he leads the Sustainability Transitions programme. His work focuses on governance and social dimensions of transitions in the environmental sector. His Master’s thesis explores the domestic environmental regime in response to global environmental frameworks, and evaluates the effects of the Clean Development Mechanism on communities 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.

Angelina Chamuah

Angelina Chamuah is a Research Fellow at Tandem Research. Her current work is focused on understanding regulatory frameworks for emerging technologies in India.She is interested in studying the development of emerging technologies and the complex entanglements between technology and society. Her M.Phil. research is centered on human-machine interactions in the context of social robotics and engages with questions of design and agency in the building of affective relationalities between humans and social robots. She has an M.A and M.Phil. in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics and a B.A (H) in Sociology from Miranda House, New Delhi.