In 2015, Senator James Inhofe confidently stepped onto the Senate floor, carrying a snowball. He then explained how global warming (and, in effect, climate change) could simply not exist since it was cold enough outside for the snowball he was holding in his hand to form.
While laughable, Senator Inhofe’s argument is indicative of the centuries of neglect the environment has suffered at human hands.
Today, sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, forests are burning, and animals are dying.
It’s clear that something needs to change.
Over the last few years, the use of artificial intelligence and its potential repercussions have been the source of many controversies. Morality and ethics have been called into question, as people share their fears that AI may soon render humans (especially in blue collar jobs) obsolete. While these concerns are valid, recent findings show that the development of artificial intelligence may have an unforeseen benefit.
In 2015, the 193 members of the United Nations passed a resolution that put into place a 15 year plan of achieving 17 Sustainable Development goals by 2030 (SDGs). Then in 2017, the UN Artificial Intelligence Summit in Geneva suggested refocusing the use of AI technology to help achieve these goals and encourage long-lasting global sustainability.
All over the globe, 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water while 4.5 billion people live without safe sanitation systems–with nearly one thousand children dying due to preventable water and sanitation related diseases every day.
The problem is twofold: not only do people not have access to water, but often times, the water they do have access to is contaminated. AI is being used to mitigate the effects of a lack of clean water in a number of ways. Clean Water AI tackles the issue of water filtration by alerting users when water needs to be further filtered. A prototype IoT device uses pattern recognition and machine learning to inspect water quality through a digital microscope. These test systems could dramatically prevent disease and save thousands of lives simply by providing accurate information that would alert users as to whether or not their water needs to be further filtered.
And if the water does need further filtering, AI can help to do so. For example, EMAGIN, an Oregon-based company, is using AI to create more accurate and timely information about the kinds of pollutants in water, make recommendations for treatments, allow facility operators to more effectively clean incoming wastewater, and prevent overflows.
AI has the potential to revolutionize access to water and waste management systems, culminating in the development of fully decentralized water systems: in this system, water and wastewater treatment plants are located at the site of the water supply–preferable to large treatment plans that require miles of expensive infrastructure and are subject to contamination.
Preserving our Earth’s natural resources and focusing on sustainability have never been as crucial as they are right now. While most of this AI is still in the process of being developed, its very existence is key in impacting the future of the planet in the upcoming years. More importantly, using something like AI (which was originally developed solely for computational and technological purposes) to support environmental sustainability sets an important precedent for all technology that is, and will be developed. The very nature of the UN acknowledging AI as a worthy investment to reach its SDGs is a testament to the potential that this technology has to improve different aspects of human life.
The widespread impacts that just AI prototypes have had point to the necessity for greater investment into this growing field. Technology can and will be repurposed to solve world issues; and the aforementioned technologies prove that AI should be used to serve our larger global community. The time for action is now. And when the rest of the planet realizes the undiscovered possibilities of artificial intelligence, waves of change will follow.
Of the current approximate half a million refugees in Libya, 60% are from Sub-Saharan countries, 32% from North African nations, and 7% from Eastern and Middle Eastern countries. Most are trying to flee from economic or political instability towards Europe. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) found that human traffickers, militias, Libyan Coast guard, police, and other groups have worked with Libyan officials to bring migrants into detention centers owned by the Libyan Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM). In 2017 alone, 20,000 migrants were brought into detention centers, where their rights are routinely violated. Migrants have no access to legal resources in these centers, which are often run by armed militias. The detention centers have been described as “generally inhumane, falling far short of international human rights standards.” But how did the situation get this bad, and how can it be resolved?
The EU shares a portion of the blame for the state of migrants in Libya. In 2017, the EU and the Libyan government brokered the “Memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the fields of development, the fight against illegal immigration, human trafficking and fuel smuggling and on reinforcing the security of borders between the State of Libya and the Italian Republic” in order to stem the flow of refugees that were using Libya as a gateway to Europe during the 2016 refugee crisis. The agreement between parties gave millions of euros to the Libyan coast guard to capture seafaring refugees en route to Europe in order to bring them back to Libya. It also recognized the authority of the DCIM detention centers, where the migrants are sent to after returning, while failing to recognize the need for legal representation. Even the requirement of observation by human rights organization or UN bodies is ignored. According to Anja Palm, a researcher at the Istituto Affari Internazionali, what is most worrisome about the memorandum is that it “seem[s] to voluntarily ignore all dissimilarity in the legal status of people on the move, assimilating all of them in the undifferentiated category of illegal migrants.” This willful ignorance of distinctions among migrants criminalizes all forms of migration rather than distinguishing circumstances that would normally qualify certain individuals or families for refugee status.
As a result, the conditions are deplorable. Eye witness accounts speak of “going days without food and drinking toilet water to survive” and how “infected detainees are locked with others in a dark room and [had] been repeatedly left without tuberculosis medication.” Even more shocking, open air slave auctions have been documented in the country. Multiple eye witness accounts report migrants being sold as slaves in markets, with some accusing the DCIM centers themselves of being home to the slave auctions. Recently, over 50 non-profit organizations have signed an open letter calling on Europe to take stock of the rampant loss of life and dignity in Libya, stating, “EU leaders have allowed themselves to become complicit in the tragedy unfolding before their eyes.” The European Union is an accomplice to the human rights violations that have been enumerated.
The harm being done to human lives is egregious. Yet, the European Union has valid reasons to seek ways to reduce immigration levels. With the threat of migrants coming into Europe often being blown out of proportion in general media, populists and far-right politicians have capitalized on the flow of migrants into Europe. More liberal governments have been toppled by far right governments in countries such as Italy, Hungary, and Poland by stoking fears around mass immigration. Populist politicians, such as Austria’s Herbert Kickl, are openly calling for camps that “concentrate people in the asylum process in one place,” evoking a 1930’s mentality towards “undesirables.” According to Pew Research Center, a majority of Europeans support taking in refugees, yet disapprove of EU policies towards immigration. In addition, a 2017 study conducted by Pew Research shows that Europeans want their national governments, not the Union, to craft policy concerning refugees. Therefore, while it might be morally advisable, open-border policies will drive people further into the arms of populists.
So, what can be done? Currently, persons fleeing towards Europe are being turned around in the Mediterranean and sent back to Libya regardless of whether or not they have valid reasons for fleeing their country of origin. When they get to Libya, individuals are usually stripped of their documents and put in detainment camps. Legalizing migration channels would begin to stabilize the migration situation by incentivizing refugees against illegally crossing, establishing readmission agreements with countries of origin, and debilitating the smuggling apparatus in place. The European Union should establish migration agreements with countries that have seen a large number of their citizens flee to Europe. This can be done on a lottery basis with any person seeking entrance being eligible to enroll, provided they have not previously tried to illegally enter. If they have previously tried to illegally enter, they would be barred from joining the lottery process for a certain number of years. The imposition of a temporary exclusion from the Visa lottery would disincentivize many people from trying to enter illegally, while not punishing those who have already tried to do so for the rest of their lives.
These types of agreements are called Mobility Partnerships, and according to the European Council on Foreign Relations, “So far, only Tunisia and Morocco among North African countries have mobility partnerships with the EU. No mobility partnership has been signed with any sub-Saharan countries.” As mobility partnerships are a thorny issue, open debates should take place regarding what percentage should be given visas. Meanwhile, this policy could solve pressing issues. People are entering whether or not there are migration channels in place. Migrants brave the brutal conditions that smugglers impose on them without guarantee of success because there is no other way to do it. Allowing some migrants to enter through a lottery system would offer another option. Furthermore, the outcome of fewer people using smuggling routes would raise the price that smugglers demand for the journey. This would prevent those who would have deemed the previous fare acceptable and paid it from paying the new fare.
In addition, the EU should establish Readmission Agreements which are agreements between parties that work to “facilitate the return of people residing irregularly in a country to their country of origin or to a country of transit.” These agreements are a necessary aspect of mobility partnerships. If the EU allows for a certain percentage of a nation’s citizens to receive visas, those nations must accept those who have sought to enter into Europe unlawfully back into their countries. This benefits the EU, as those who are trying to enter illegally are sent back to their home countries. Readmission agreements also benefit nations that agree to it, as their citizens can enter the Visa lottery in return.
With this framework set in place, order can begin to be created and migrants can be protected. The European Union faces a dire need to act on this matter. The EU has been accused of knowingly allowing the abuse of migrants to happen. The memorandum that was signed between the parties was an act of allowing willful ignorance taking place in order to decrease the influx of migrants. Amnesty International testified that “no independent monitoring or accountability mechanism has been established either by Italy or by the EU to ensure that the resources provided to the Libyan authorities…are not contributing to human rights violations and abuses.” If the European Union does not want to see itself as complicit, it should take hardline action against Libyan policies and ensure that the human rights of migrants are respected. To do nothing in the face of such freely available information would be to directly participate in the torture, slave trading, and murder of innocent people.