Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) can bring significant climate and environmental benefits to cities by adapting city infrastructures to the needs of city dwellers. San Francisco’s Smart City Challenge in 2016 envisaged using AI to process and deliver actionable insights from vast quantities of data in order to address the city’s growing transportation problem. The vision of the city's future is embodied in the proposed “Shared, Electric, Connected and Automated Vehicles” model, which seeks to replace single-occupancy cars with “shared and connected” vehicles powered by electricity. Such smart utilisation of vehicles maximises the efficient use of energy while also saving time and money for the city's inhabitants, and removing excessive traffic from the spaces where they live and work.

Other uses of AI and ML in the infrastructure sector aimed at the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions include the use of data to coordinate local heating and cooling networks according to seasonal temperatures and historic use, or the intensity of public lighting systems based on historical patterns of foot traffic at different times of the day.

The main challenge in the use of AI and ML in the design of smart infrastructure is the availability of high-quality data for training the algorithms. In the UK, for instance, transport accounts for approximately 30% of the country's emissions. Regrettably, individual data that could facilitate the development of shared mobility solutions are shielded under data protection legislation. The proposed amendments to the current Data Protection Act 2018 would provide for pooling and processing of anonymised personal data in order to enable the use of AI in UK cities' transitions to a net zero future (see Mary's Law in the Green Papers of Model Laws published by The Chancery Lane Project).

Clyde & Co is hosting energy and infrastructure-themed tables in The Chancery Lane Project's virtual legal hackathon, running from 23 September to 18 December 2020. This post is part of a series of updates posted during the hackathon on business-relevant climate initiatives and innovative solutions to some of the challenges arising from climate change in the Energy or Infrastructure industries.