Microsoft will offer its AI smarts to benefit the environment

Its AI for Earth will put down $2 million to support environmentally-focused projects.

Microsoft just announced a new initiative called AI for Earth. Headed by Microsoft's chief environmental scientist Lucas Joppa, the program will help researchers and organizations use AI to solve the major environmental issues we face today. Leaders of projects focusing on water, agriculture, biodiversity and climate change can apply for access to Microsoft's cloud and AI computing resources and it's putting down $2 million towards the initiative this year.

In a statement, Microsoft President Brad Smith said, "Our goal is to empower others in new and more impactful ways to help create a more sustainable future. This program expands our commitments to democratizing AI and advancing sustainability around the globe."

Computing access includes use of Microsoft's Azure cloud platform and grantees will get free use for a year with up to 180,000 hours of computing time and 20 terabytes of storage. The company will also provide training so researchers know what AI tools are available and how to make the best use of them. And to encourage others to begin taking advantage of what AI has to offer, Microsoft will partner with other groups on projects that display the benefits of AI. The company has already been working on three such partnerships. The first is with a sustainability group working to protect the Chesapeake Bay area and with Microsoft's tools, it was able to update and create far more detailed land cover maps to aid conservation. Another project works to improve agriculture with smart technology and the third, called Project Premonition, uses drones to collect mosquitoes and analyzes the biological material collected by them to track potential emerging infectious diseases.

Those interested in applying for one of AI for Earth's grants can do so here. Applications are due by August 15th. "There is no shortage of work to be done to chart a healthier, more sustainable future for our planet. Time is not our friend on this endeavor, and the stakes are high. We know that AI for Earth is just a first step in a longer journey. But what we've seen so far gives us optimism for the future. We're looking forward to working with our current and future partners to deliver on that belief," said Smith.