Wash U scientists to use artificial intelligence to aid environmental and social science work
Scientists and students at Washington University are using artificial intelligence to tackle social and environmental issues, thanks to a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The Artificial Intelligence Advancements and Convergence in Computational, Environmental and Social Sciences program aims to find new ways to use AI across multiple disciplines.
The program adds an environmental focus to the Wash U's AI research efforts across computer science and social sciences, AI-ACCESS Director William Yeoh said.
“We wanted to also expand to the environmental science space, especially given the reasons, immediate concerns about climate change and the effects of climate change on the different communities within the U.S.,” said Yeoh, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at Wash U. “We felt that this intersection between these three different areas, AI, social science and environmental science is something that would require a lot more attention and tools of different disciplines to work in this interdisciplinary space.”
The university is recruiting 49 students for the program, which has received $3 million in funding from the National Science Foundation over five years.
The program starts as scientists continue to ring the alarm on the threat of climate change. Many scientists say that the world's countries can limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as established by the Paris climate agreement.
Using AI to help researchers in environmental and social science can help policymakers better understand and make policy changes and help local communities, Yeoh said.
“What we realized is how much homelessness resources are needed has a large dependency on weather and how cold does it get in St. Louis,” Yeoh said. “All these effects of climate change can contribute to the need for people to require temporary shelter. That’s how we realized that this intersection of AI, social science and environmental science that there can be some cross-disciplinary synergies that can be exploited to help solve or inform these decisions better.”
Researchers said the initiative allows them to use AI to analyze datasets quickly and process information to quickly respond to problems.
“When it comes to issues with climate change and public health in general, we're starting to get these really large datasets that are difficult for one person or even a team of people to go through in a quick time,” said Drew Crenshaw, a Wash U doctoral student and fellow in the AI-ACCESS program. “When it comes to things like making quick decisions for disease surveillance or disaster preparedness, we really need a tool like AI to kind of help us make quick responses and notify the public in a timely manner.”