May 27th, 2020
Most green initiatives undertaken by large corporations focus on reducing waste or embracing cleaner sources of energy, but Microsoft is eyeing a much more ambitious plan that would reduce its own carbon footprint and help conservationists improve the world’s ecosystems.
As part of a broader initiative that includes land conservation and environmental advocacy, Microsoft recently announced that it’s engineering a “planetary computer” that will crunch trillions of different data points about the natural world. The data will be made available to conservationists and scientists to help them assess various environmental problems and develop countermeasures. Microsoft is building the platform in partnership with Esri, a California-based maker of mapping and special analytics software.
The primary goal of the planetary computer is to speed up the process of gathering and analyzing data so organizations can deal with biodiversity problems before they become unmanageable.
In a recent blog Microsoft President Brad Smith referenced recent scientific reports that addressed some of the environmental challenges his company hopes to help tackle with the planetary computer. Among the goals Smith laid out:
- Aggregating environmental data from around the world and “(putting) it to work through computing and machine learning.”
- Using the planetary computer “to develop and deploy the digital technology that helps our partners and customers with environmental decision-making in their organizational activities.”
Changes to the world’s environment have intensified the need to produce better, more comprehensive data in a shorter period of time. Microsoft’s planetary computer is designed to solve that problem by streamlining the process of conducting and analyzing research.
Additionally, Microsoft is developing other tools that could have a positive impact on conservation, including using satellite images instead of ground surveys to estimate tree density and employing artificial intelligence to more efficiently catalog different species.
It’s all part of a larger strategy adopted by Microsoft to improve its own environmental record and assist other businesses in doing the same. The tech giant recently announced plans to protect more land than it uses by 2025. It will also launch a public advocacy campaign to support biodiversity, including national ecosystem assessments and detailed analyses of how land, water and other ecosystems are evolving over time.
Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to implement its five-year, $50 million AI for Earth project, which launched in 2017 to provide grant money to researchers and innovators to help them assess and solve environmental problems. As more American companies look into climate change initiatives, Microsoft has helped position itself as a leader in sustainability and environmental advocacy.