AI can show us the ravages of climate change

Want to feel really depressed about the likely impact of climate change? AI can help with that.

A new research paper shows how machine-learning trickery can highlight the ravages of climate change—by revealing how a property is likely to be harmed by rising sea levels, fiercer storms, and other disasters that it’s expected to worsen.

Changes afoot: The researchers used an increasingly popular technique to automatically conjure up submerged and damaged properties. As they write in their paper: “The eventual goal of our project is to enable individuals to make more informed choices about their climate future by creating a more visceral understanding of the effects of climate change.”

GAN-tastic: The team used a generative adversarial network, or GAN, to learn what houses look like before and after such damage. GANs employ two competing neural networks. One tries to learn the properties of a data set, and the other tries to spot fake examples produced by the first. The process makes it possible for machines to dream up very realistic imagery and audio.

Look ahead: After training their GAN on street-view images, the researchers mapped the results to climate models predicting the effects of climate change across the US of the next 50 years—which neighborhoods will become susceptible to hurricanes, which will be submerged, and so on. This provides a more realistic picture of how your neighborhood will be affected by the changes to come.

Real picture: The work, presented at a recent workshop on using AI for social good, shows a serious side to the kind of machine learning that is more often used change your gender in a selfie. If you’d like to know more about climate change (and how to live with it), you should probably get to know MIT Technology Review’s energy editor, James Temple.

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