Microsoft Investing $50 Million for AI-Enabled Environmental Research

The software giant announces a major new investment in its innovation program for AI-enabled environmental technologies.

AI for Ocean Research

Microsoft is spending $50 million over the next five years on making artificial intelligence technologies (AI) available to researchers and organizations that are working to protect and improve the environment.

The initiative is part of an expansion of the software giant's AI for Earth program. First announced in July, the environmental technology initially was primarily focused on agriculture, biodiversity, water scarcity, and of course, climate change. In October, the program was expanded to include the research involving the world's oceans and the problems affecting them, including pollution, rising sea levels and increasing acidity.

Now, Microsoft has unveiled a multi-faceted approach to further grow the program, including an investment of $50 million over the next five years.

"First, we'll expand seed grants around the world to create and test new AI applications," wrote Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft in a Dec. 11 announcement. "Since our launch of AI for Earth six months ago, Microsoft has awarded over 35 grants in more than 10 countries for access to Microsoft Azure and AI technology. We will also provide universities, nongovernmental organizations and others with advanced training to put AI to its best use."

Microsoft will be keeping an eye on things as more participants are accepted into the program and the initiative gains steam, added Smith. If the company spots a promising AI project, it may be eligible for more financial and technical support, providing organizations with a fast track toward the commercialization of their technologies.

Finally, some AI projects may wind up a part of Microsoft's own platform offerings. Innovative applications that tackle climate change can potentially be used to aid other organizations meet their sustainability goals through Microsoft's cloud and software ecosystem or the technology platforms of other providers.

Microsoft is just one of many major technology companies that are tackling climate challenges.

In 2014, Google announced it was donating 50 million cloud computing hours to the U.S. Government's Climate Data Initiative. The program provides public data to communities and organizations to help them evaluate climate conditions.

Google's contribution included millions of hours' worth of time on the company's Google Earth Engine, a geospatial analysis platform. Google Earth Engine allows developers to tap into more than 30 years of satellite imagery and public data sets and use their own algorithms to create applications for natural resource management, predicting the spread of disease and more. To date, the project has amassed over two petabytes of geospatial data, according to Google.

In March, data storage provider Western Digital partnered with the United Nations in launching an innovation challenge called Data for Climate Action.

Aimed at harnessing the power of big data and data science to increase sustainability, the competition has attracted the backing of the Skoll Global Threats Fund along with a number of companies, including telecommunications provider Orange and Google's navigation app, Waze. Microsoft chipped in cloud-computing support and Tableau lent its visual analytics expertise.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...