6 August, 2020
New report by the United Nations University Institute on Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) uses strategic foresight to study applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to achieve water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The report discusses motivations, applications, and opportunities related to the adoption of AI for sustainable development. AI can be used to forecast water-related disasters with higher accuracy, frequency, and lead time relative to non-AI methods, allowing for focused management of post-disaster activity. Applications of AI in water management have the potential to mitigate significant economic loss, preserve communities and ecosystems, and decrease mortality associated with water-related disaster.
The report recommends that:
- Policymakers should conduct holistic assessments of social, economic, and cultural factors before AI adoption in the water sector, as prospective applications of AI are case- specific. It is also important to conduct baseline studies to measure the implementation capacity, return on investment, and impact of intervention.
- To ensure positive development outcomes, policies regarding the use of AI for water-related challenges should be coupled with capacity and infrastructure development policies. Capacity development policies need to address the AI and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) needs for the AI-related skill development of all water-related stakeholders. Infrastructure development policies should address the underlying requirements of computation, energy, data generation, and storage. The sequencing of these policies is critical.
- To mitigate the predicted job displacement that will accompany AI-led innovation in the water sector, policies should direct investments towards enabling a skilled workforce by developing water sector-related education at all levels. This skilled workforce should be strategically placed to offset dependency on the private sector.
- Water-related challenges are cross-cutting running from grassroots to the global level and require an understanding of the water ecosystem. It is important for countries connected by major rivers and watersheds to collaborate in developing policies that advance the use of AI to address common water-related challenges.
- A council or agency with representation from all stakeholders should be constituted at the national level, to allow for the successful adoption of AI by water agencies. This council or agency should be tasked with the development of policies, guidelines, and codes of conduct for the adoption of AI in the water-sector.
These key policy recommendations can be used as primary guidelines for the development of strategies and plans to use AI to help achieve water-related SDGs.