Artificial Intelligence: The Next Environmental Frontier

February 2018

(Washington, DC): What happens to the rule of law in a world where software rules?  Software manipulation of over a half million VW diesel automobiles created one of the largest environmental scandals of the past decade.  But as software becomes smarter, it can also reduce energy and resource use, monitor pollution, and help predict weather patterns.  The environmental impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) may depend on when and how the environmental community engages with technology developers.

When Software Lies Cover

A new report by the Environmental Law Institute offers the government, businesses, and the public a number of recommendations they can use as they begin to consider the environmental impacts of AI.

 “As environmental decisionmaking becomes internalized into AI algorithms, and these algorithms increasingly learn without human input, issues of transparency and accountability must be addressed,” said Dave Rejeski, Director of ELI’s Technology, Innovation, and the Environment Program. “This is a moment of opportunity for the legal, ethical, and public policy communities to ensure positive environmental outcomes as AI advances.”

When Software Rules: Rule of Law in the Age of Artificial Intelligence provides a brief history of AI and discusses current concerns with AI systems. It offers an overview of potential environmental applications to AI and discusses different possible forms of semiformal and formal governance. It closes with a number of recommendations for how AI governance can include consideration of environmental impacts.

The report is available for free download.

ELI’s Technology, Innovation, and the Environment Program focuses on how society can better understand the environmental impacts and opportunities created through emerging technologies and their underlying innovation systems, structural changes in the economy, and new roles for the public in environmental research and protection. Visit for more information.

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