AI for Sustainability: a tool to save our planet?

Lecture / Panel
Open to the Public

Speaker Series: AI Here & There  Transatlantic Dialogues on AI, Society and Innovation

AI Here and There: Transatlantic Dialogues on Artificial Intelligence, Society and Innovation

In the past decade, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has quietly and quickly become prominent in our daily lives, whether we have realized it or not. AI has made itself indispensable: in our private lives, in the workplace, in sports, and even art. However, there are only a select few that know what AI really is about and what this means for us as a society. This four-part event series aims at introducing the subject of AI to a broad audience. Each event will be focused on different subjects. Since this is a global topic, we took this opportunity in stride to invite panelists both locally and internationally from Switzerland and the US.

The series is organized by the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York and the Center for Responsible AI | NYU Tandon School of Engineering and hosted by Mona Sloane.

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AI and Sustainability: will AI save our planet?

AI is an integral part of our everyday lives. As such, it also plays a role in the mounting climate emergency. For example, training a single large natural language processing model can consume as much energy as a car over its entire lifetime. At the same time, AI can help mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. For example by helping to understand complex weather patterns and climate systems to improve climate change projections. This second event of the four-part event series “AI Here and There” will focus on the question if AI can be a tool for sustainability that can help us save our planet. Perspectives from both Switzerland and the US will be brought to the table.

Speaker List

Carrol Plummer is the Co-Founder and CEO of Vivent, an ag-tech business that aims to deliver autonomous horticulture systems for growers and speed up product development for agrochemical companies so that we can grow healthy food with less environmental impact. She is an experienced entrepreneur focused on deep tech innovations. She has lots of experience in B2B markets with complex distribution channels and is happiest working with colleagues on solving challenging problems. Carrol Plummer is excited to be exploring how understanding information flows in biology can lead to breakthroughs in agriculture, human health and biofilm management. She has an MBA from INSEAD and is a Mechanical engineer from Banff, Canada but now lives in Western Switzerland. Find out more about Vivent in this portrait of three Swiss start-ups at the forefront of ‘green tech’ — technological innovations that enable more sustainable farming practices.

Fernando Perez-Cruz is Adjunct Professor at the Department of Computer Science of ETH Zurich and Chief Data Scientist at the Swiss Data Science Center (SDSC). SDSC is a joint venture between EPFL and ETH Zurich. The Center’s mission is to accelerate the use of data science and machine learning techniques within academic disciplines of the ETH Domain, the Swiss academic community at large, and the industrial sector. A multi-disciplinary team of senior data scientists and experts in domains such as personalized health and medicine, earth and environmental science, social science and digital humanities, as well as economics enables collaboration on both academic and industrial projects. Prof. Perez-Cruz received a PhD. in Electrical Engineering from the Technical University of Madrid. He has been a member of the technical staff at Bell Labs and a Machine Learning Research Scientist at Amazon. He has been a visiting professor at Princeton University under a Marie Curie Fellowship and an associate professor at University Carlos III in Madrid. He has also held positions at the Gatsby Unit (London), Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics (Tuebingen), BioWulf Technologies (New York).

Dr. Eric Nost is Assistant Professor in Geography, Environment and Geomatics at University of Guelph. He researches how data technologies inform conservation, drawing on the fields of political ecology, science and technology studies, and digital geographies. New kinds of data-generating sensors and data-synthesizing algorithms are becoming central to everyday life and may prove transformational at a policy-level as well. A key challenge for geographers in the coming years is assessing these technologies’ promise to help society solve sustainability issues related to food security, climate change adaptation, and ecosystem services conservation. Nost is a member of the coordinating committee for the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, working to build civic technologies and infrastructures that make data and decision-making more accessible and tracking how the U.S. federal government portrays climate change and other issues on the web. He received a Ph.D. in geography (2018) from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Venkatramani Balaji has headed the Modeling Systems Division at Princeton University’s Cooperative Institute on Modeling the Earth System (CIMES) since 2003, and is Associate Faculty the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering (PICSciE) and the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI). With a background in physics and climate science, he has also become an expert in the area of parallel computing and scientific infrastructure. He is co-chair of the WGCM Infrastructure Panel (WIP), tasked with developing the scientific requirements for the global data infrastructure underlying the Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP), a pillar of the IPCC Assessment Reports of the state of the Earth’s climate. In 2017, he was among the first recipients of French President Macron’s Make Our Planet Great Again award marking the second anniversary of the Paris Climate Accord. He has served on scientific advisory panels for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the MaxPlanck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, and is currently on the Science Review Group of the UK Met Office Hadley Centre. He is a sought-after speaker and lecturer and is committed to provide training in the use of climate models in developing nations, leading workshops for advanced students and researchers in South Africa and India. Dr. V. Balaji has an M.Sc in Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and a Ph.D. in Physics from the Ohio State University

Host: Mona Sloane - Senior Research Scientist, NYU Center for Responsible AI. Mona Sloane is a sociologist working on inequality in the context of AI design and policy. She frequently publishes and speaks about AI, ethics, equitability and policy in a global context. Mona is a Fellow with NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge (IPK), where she convenes the Co-Opting AI series and co-curates The Shift series. She also is an Adjunct Professor at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, a Senior Research Scientist at the NYU Center for Responsible AI, and is part of the inaugural cohort of the Future Imagination Collaboratory (FIC) Fellows at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Mona is also affiliated with The GovLab in New York and works with Public Books as the editor of the Technology section. Her most recent project is Terra Incognita: Mapping NYC’s New Digital Public Spaces in the COVID-19 Outbreak which she leads as principal investigator. Mona currently also serves as principal investigator of the Procurement Roundtables project, a collaboration with Dr. Rumman Chowdhury (Director of Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency & Accountability at Twitter, Founder of Parity), and John C. Havens (IEEE Standards Association) that is focused on innovating AI procurement to center equity and justice. Mona also works with Emmy Award-winning journalist and NYU journalism professor Hilke Schellmann on hiring algorithms, auditing, and new tools for investigative journalism and research on AI. With Dr. Matt Statler (NYU Stern), Mona is also leading the PIT-UN Career Fair project that looks to bring together students and organizations building up the public interest technology space. Mona is also affiliated with the Tübingen AI Center in Germany where she leads a 3-year federally funded research project on the operationalization of ethics in German AI startups. She holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science and has completed fellowships at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of Cape Town. Follow her on Twitter @mona_sloane.


Digitalisation offers new opportunities for diplomacy, poverty reduction and sustainable development. But there are also risks involved in the processing of vast amounts of data, the spread of fake news and surveillance. By adopting the Digital Foreign Policy Strategy 2021–2024, Switzerland is acknowledging digitalization as a thematic priority of its foreign policy. The world is constantly changing and needs a hub, in other words a space that brings together all states, businesses and citizens – all directly affected by the new challenges of digitalisation. International Geneva is a hub for digital governance. The goal is to promote transparent debate, strengthen international law and encourage international cooperation in dealing with abuses and surveillance, while paying heed to public opinion, and to increase the benefits of new technologies. This virtual Series “AI Here & There” contributes to this inclusive discussion.


Center for Responsible AI (R/AI)

As a research and tool production lab, R/AI is charting a path towards responsible AI. In practice this means ensuring that technical advances are combined with a shift in business practices and much-needed regulatory mechanisms that are informed by social research and robust public participation. 

Launched in 2020, R/AI has conducted research on automated decision making systems in hiring; hosted thought-provoking events to debate trends and spotlight tensions; developed new interdisciplinary research projects; co-generated novel, open source responsible AI/AI literacies curricula for use with adults in informal learning settings at public libraries; produced a dynamic multi-lingual comic series about responsible data science as well as “nutritional labels” to make AI explainability more transparent; advocated for municipal oversight of automated decision-systems; published papers that move the discourse on responsible AI forward; advised on field-based councils; and supported AI for Good programs such as the Women in AI Accelerator.