When most people think about big tech companies, they don’t usually think
about “saving the world.” In fact, lots of people joke about Google creating
robots that will take over the world. While that’s almost certainly an
exaggeration, altruism isn’t usually the goal of a for-profit company.
The good news about big companies like Google, though, is that they have
the resources and a workforce of talented, passionate people to take on some truly amazing projects that could ultimately do a lot of good in the world. Ultimately, Google’s technology could have a chance at saving the world. Here’s how.
When it comes to climate change, it’s in everyone’s best interest to do
their part—including corporations. Since Google is the master of data on the internet, they have the power to make a big difference in the fight against climate change.
Climate change research has been going on for decades, and the more available data for helping to understand it, the better. Manually collecting and analyzing data is extremely time-consuming and does not provide the real-time insights we need to understand the phenomenon of climate change and what we need to prioritize. Big data tools, many of which Google controls, are helping to make the research process much
more efficient and helpful.
A program from Google, known as Google Earth Outreach, started through the company’s policy of letting engineers work one day a week on a passion project. Rebecca Moore created the program, which harnesses the power of Google Maps and Google Earth data to help environmental groups achieve their goals.
One project example was mapping methane leaks using sensors on Google’s Street View cars. Using this method, the company was able to detect methane leaks in 10 cities without any additional effort—the sensors did the work, transported by cars that were already mapping the areas. This made the program even more eco-friendly and efficient—both keys in fighting climate change.
Artificial intelligence could also prove helpful in improving the health of the planet. With predictive technology, climate scientists can make better strategic recommendations for how to proceed based on where we are now. While technology alone can’t make governments take action, it can provide us with the information we need to move forward.
Healthcare in the United States and in many other countries has some serious issues to work through. In addition to accessibility issues and wait times, there is a huge amount of waste in the industry, which drives up costs for patients. Medical errors and other issues result in misdiagnosis, poor outcomes, and other consequences for patients.
Over the last few decades, big data has been used in healthcare to improve efficiency in hospitals and reduce medical errors. It also has significant diagnostic applications. In medical research, big data is also proving to be an extremely valuable asset, helping to expedite the process safely and remove friction.
Although Google is not a healthcare company, or even a health data company, it has begun to get involved in the space and has even started to build a clinical research ecosystem. This uses the Google Health Studies app and involves a Google subsidiary in life sciences.
Patient health data is protected carefully, for good reason. However, a lack of access to this data can also affect the medical research process. Google is breaking down these barriers and providing better access, in ways that are still compliant.
Clinical trials are challenging to conduct, requiring years of research in developing a new drug or treatment, then setting up a trial and recruiting participants. Once that is done, the management of the trial can also be difficult. The good news is that artificial intelligence and other technologies can help to make this entire process more efficient and hands-off, meaning that new treatments can go to market and help patients that much faster.
We’ve already seen how much big data can help us understand climate change and improve human health. When you stop and think about it, these two issues truly are the most central to maintaining the quality of life we enjoy on planet earth.
Climate change is driving an increase in catastrophic weather events, which could prompt a large-scale migration in the future. Certain areas of the planet may become inhospitable to human habitation, forcing Earth’s large population to cluster together, further stressing the planet’s resources.
Human health is also affected by environmental crises. Displacement and disease are huge problems associated with severe weather events. People may develop chronic illnesses or be subject to so much stress that they develop health problems.
In order to maintain and improve the quality of life for humans all over the world, we need to tackle these problems head-on. With Google and other large tech companies taking part in important initiatives, we may have a chance at a better life. AI and data can help us take appropriate action and ensure that we don’t do more harm as we attempt to course-correct.
Over time, researchers have learned just how amazing the human brain is. At the same time, they’ve also acknowledged its limitations. We created machines and whole new programming languages so that we could process data much more quickly than our own brains.
Big tech companies are definitely focused on making a profit, that’s not surprising. But they’re also working on incredibly meaningful projects that might just save the planet. As artificial intelligence improves and more data is collected, there will be even more opportunities to improve research and for large companies to use their resources for good.
Humans are far from perfect. And there are lots of problems that continue to plague our world. But it’s comforting to know that some of the greatest minds in the world are working on the world’s issues—which might just be enough to save us.