SustAIn – Sustainability Index for Artificial Intelligence


3 December 2020

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How sustainable is Artificial Intelligence? Whether it's voice recognition, recommendations for video or shopping platforms, autonomous driving, medical diagnostics or predictive maintenance in industry: AI promises to provide us with innovative products, new markets, competitive opportunities or research insights. But there's also the promise of contributions to sustainability: through smart energy and transport infrastructures, through monitoring the earth more closely in order to be able to better analyze climate changes, through new warning and forecasting systems, or improvements to waste and resource management. At the same time, developing AI often requires a lot of energy, and some of the systems use the labor of people who have to work in precarious conditions, such as the so-called click workers.

So how sustainable is the development and use of AI really? In our SustAIn project, we will explore the sustainability impact of AI technologies and systems and work out their potential for our world - for example, through less resource consumption, fair working conditions or sustainable consumption. Our approach to sustainability is based on the 3 Nested Dependencies Model, which prioritizes the environmental, social, and economic pillars of sustainability. Sustainable economic development can only take place in a socially just society and both are dependent on the protection of planetary boundaries. In addition, SustAIn draws on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN member states in 2015.

To encourage public and policy debates on the topic, we will create a sustainability index for AI systems to serve as a rating system. To this end, we will develop criteria for the sustainability assessment of AI applications and survey the sustainability impacts using examples. In case studies, we will examine AI applications in sectors such as energy, mobility, and online consumption that are particularly relevant to sustainability and assess their potential to contribute to greater sustainability. The results will be published in annual Sustainable AI Index Reports and we will develop visualizations to reach an audience beyond experts.

With our Sustainable AI Labs, we will work with developers to create guidelines for sustainable AI development and come up with policy recommendations.



Funded by

based on a resolution
of the German Bundestag