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What if AI could do more than save you time? What if it could save the world?

What if AI could do more than save you time? What if it could save the world?

USC Marshall Brittingham Social Impact Lab hosted a panel on how businesses are leveraging AI to combat the climate crisis.

What if AI could do more than save you time? What if it could save the world?

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You might start your Saturday night with tunes curated by an AI DJ on Spotify or finish your Sunday using ChatGPT to help you craft your resume. Artificial intelligence is increasingly a part of our lives and can help us automate and scale individual or team projects. But can AI be leveraged to impact global scale issues critical to the long-term sustainability of our planet and people?

If you ask panelists from USC Marshall School of Business BRITTINGHAM SOCIAL ENTERPRISE LAB'S(BSEL) recent seminar, the answer is yes. And they are not alone. EIGHTY-SEVEN PERCENT OF CEOs with decision-making power in AI and climate feel AI will be a crucial part of combating climate change. In BSEL’s RECENT PANEL DISCUSSION on “How Businesses are Leveraging AI to Combat the Climate Crisis,” speakers Sabrina Williams, founder and CEO of SEED, and Keith Gipson, CEO/CTO of FACIL.AI shared how they are currently using technology to do good.

The discussion, moderated by USC VITERBI SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING Associate Professor Kelly Sanders, is a part of BSEL’s six-part Jacobson Family Sustainable Impact Lecture Series. The series examines issues at the forefront of social impact and business through the lens of professionals and experts.

"AI is an intimidating subject," Sander said. "You [Gipson and Williams] are on the forefront of leveraging this technology for good."

Gipson founded in 2020, partly inspired by energy waste in buildings during the pandemic. uses automation to provide basic yet essential services at the intersection of building energy efficiency, education, and AI. It responds to the need to reduce waste and carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, commercial buildings generate 50 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and waste an average of 30 percent of energy.

It’s not about taking jobs. It’s a force multiplier. Efficiency is not about doing less. It’s about doing more.

Keith Gipson


"I was fascinated by the mechanism and automation aspect," said Gipson. "I saw AI as an opportunity to do a lot of things I wanted to do at scale and beyond what I could do as a human algorithmically."

Williams agreed with Gipson's assessment. 

"We forget that computer science or the formal natural sciences are not exclusive or elusive to us," Williams said. "We use technology every day, so I don’t find it intimidating."

Williams, who counts herself as a master gardener, founded SEED as a way to promote sustainability and food justice. Agricultural tools the SEED team advances help level the playing field by providing affordable solutions to sharing data, better understanding soil makeup, and training growers. 

"AI is about more than automation or data," Williams said. "It’s about the human side of things."

Data is Power

"Imagine you had a 1000 years to figure out the perfect range for a thermostat. That’s what AI is doing," Gipson said. "Machine learning is all about hanging around long enough so you can learn a certain amount of data and recognize patterns."

For Williams, this played out in the process of determining which mushroom species were the most sustainable to grow. 

"We started work with oyster mushrooms and began using information from the sensor as a baseline," Williams explained. "We did this over and over, and it helped us decide quickly exactly which species to plant. We have this forest there now, with 16 species—three of them pioneers."

Williams says that looking at this from a scale perspective—there are 500 million smallholder farmers around the world that have no access to this information — is what makes it so impactful. 

"I see it really tapping into a need," she said.

What Do You Do With A Big Idea?

It might be daunting to consider what the next big idea is and if it might be something an individual can imagine or contribute to. But Williams wants to remind future entrepreneurs that we have big ideas from when we’re two-years-old and onward. 

"Big ideas are nothing without people," she said. But big ideas, like any living thing, need nourishment. Curiosity, empathy, and understanding are three elements she emphasized as key to helping big ideas be realized.

"You can’t do it alone," Gipson added. "You need a great team and like-minded individuals."

Entrepreneurs should also remember that big ideas are just one opportunity away from blowing up. For both Williams and Gipson, the pandemic created an unexpected moment that helped them progress their visions.

"Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator helped us with our first pilot," Williams said. "We stuck this sensor in the ground. We used the pandemic as an opportunity to test out a theory."

Gipson added, "No one ever anticipated turning buildings off. AI could do that at scale and that became one of the performance indicators we wanted to hit."

AI Could Be a Force For Good

"What we’re seeing is it’s creating efficiency," Williams said. "In communities where agriculture is bogging people down and preventing them from doing anything other than growing their food, it allows people to do other things. In some communities, this allows women and girls to go back to school."

"It’s not about taking jobs," Gipson added. "It’s a force multiplier. Efficiency is not about doing less. It’s about doing more."