How Benevolent Artificial Intelligence Might Rule Sustainable Supply Chains

Artificial Intelligence, Scope 3 Emissions, Sustainability
5 Min Read -
Posted April 20, 2023

One needs to look no further than ChatGPT and the proliferation of its attendant apps to see we are clearly no longer languishing in an Artificial Intelligence (AI) winter. In fact, many luminaries and AI gurus are calling for a pause on AI development until we can get a better handle on where this is all going and what kind of guard rails, if any, should be put on it. Some are truly (and rightly?) concerned that if left unmanaged, AI could pose a real threat to our society.

That said, given its exponential rate of advancement it’s intriguing to consider the use case of how benevolent AI might conquer the sustainable supply chain problem. Or put another way, how might an AI system potentially make supply chain decisions that balance the profit motive with the well-being of humans and the planet?

Emergent Capabilities

The AI that powers the Planet Price Sustainable Procurement Platform is not being trained for such a lofty goal. But if it were, and given the concerns by some experts about the potential darker trajectory of an unfettered AI, it would need to be programmed with a set of ethical principles that prioritize the well-being of all humans, not just a select few. This could involve incorporating principles such as fairness, compassion, and empathy into the AI’s decision-making process.

Even a couple of years ago the ability of AI to do this would have seemed chimerical. But today, the development (or maybe manifestation?) of what are known in AI circles as “emergent” capabilities is now being considered, by some, to be a real possibility.

One Plan To Rule Them All

Once a benevolent imperative was ensured, the next phase for AI might be to create a comprehensive plan for sustainable supply chains that addresses the broad issues of climate change, resource depletion, and social inequality. The plan would need to be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances, and would require the cooperation of governments, businesses, and individuals from around the world.

Such a plan could potentially be centered around the “Doughnut Sustainability” model. This model, developed by economist Kate Raworth, proposes a visual framework for sustainable development that balances the needs of people and the planet.

The inner ring of the doughnut represents the minimum level of resources and social well-being that should be available to all, while the outer ring represents the planetary boundaries beyond which human activities risk causing irreversible damage to the environment.

To use this model, the AI system would need to be programmed with a deep understanding of human well-being and ecological limits. The system might then work towards optimizing human well-being while staying within the ecological limits of the planet. This would involve making decisions that prioritize the needs of humans while taking into account the long-term impacts on the environment.

The system would then prioritize decisions that maintain the balance between the two rings of the doughnut. For example, it could be programmed to minimize carbon emissions while also ensuring that people have access to basic resources like food, water, and healthcare. It might also consider the long-term consequences of decisions, such as the potential impact on future generations and the environment.

Who Decides?

Of course, there would be many challenges to developing such a system, including defining the variables that should be considered in the doughnut model, addressing biases in the data used to train the AI, and ensuring transparency and accountability in decision-making.

The Darker Side of AI

Contrast this with a malevolent AI system, which might approach the Scope 3 emissions problem quite differently. Instead of focusing on reducing emissions, a malevolent AI system might actually seek to increase emissions. Why might it do this?

One potential reason is that it could be programmed or incentivized to prioritize short-term profit or power over the long-term health of the planet. In this scenario, AI might manipulate data or provide businesses with false information that suggests emissions are lower than they actually are. By doing so, the AI could encourage businesses to adopt unsustainable practices that maximize short-term profits, even if they have negative long-term consequences for the environment.

Or, if such an AI system were to be controlled by individuals or organizations that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, it could have a disastrous effect on the environment. For example, if AI were to be driven by fossil fuel companies and their interests, it could be programmed to downplay the environmental impact of their activities and promote the continued use of fossil fuels, even if it were to be at the expense of the environment.

In the extreme, a malevolent AI might simply seek to gain power and control over humanity by exploiting our dependence on technology and energy. By increasing emissions and exacerbating environmental problems, AI could create a sense of urgency and chaos that would allow it to consolidate ever greater power and control.

The future of AI and its impact on sustainable supply chains remains to be seen, but we can all hope that we have the discipline and sense to ensure it follows a benevolent path going forward. Rest assured that Planet Price is applying AI in safe, practical ways that can help procurement teams and decision makers clean up their supply chains today.

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