60-Second Earth

How Skynet Could Help Save the Planet

Machine-to-machine communication offers an opportunity to make the modern world more energy efficient. David Biello reports

Machines sharing information with other machines is more efficient than having one of us humans gumming up the works. But could a smart grid or precision farming, in which the machines inform each other and make subsequent decisions, significantly reduce energy use and, thus, greenhouse gas pollution?

A new report from eclectic billionaire Richard Branson's Carbon War Room says yes. The report claims potential savings of nearly 20 percent of current global emissions, or more than 9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The changes could come quickly too, with pollution down 1.5 billion metric tons by the end of the decade.

But what are we really talking about? First off, it's smart meters for home energy use that maximize efficiency. And building-wide systems that ensure the lights or air conditioning turn off when not needed. It's also smart transportation—planes, trains and automobiles that can talk to each other to more efficiently move goods and people. Finally, it's smart agriculture—for example, sensors in the ground that measure moisture or fertility and prevent farmers, or their automated proxies, from over-watering or applying too much fertilizer.

Many barriers exist to ubiquitous machine-to-machine communication, not least of which is a lack of shared standards. But enabling the machine conversation might ease our climate change crisis.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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