IBM unveils 5 in 5 research areas around climate and environmental challenges

In tandem with the United Nations, the company is pledging to use its resources to enable a more sustainable future in five areas in five years.

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Image: IBM

IBM on Thursday unveiled five areas of research it plans to use to enable faster scientific breakthroughs and materials discovery around addressing climate change and environmental challenges.

The announcement coincides with the first ever virtual United Nations General Assembly.

Every year, IBM showcases five ways officials believe technology will fundamentally reshape business and society in the next five years, informed by work occurring within IBM Research’s global labs and broader industry trends.

SEE: Big data’s role in COVID-19 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

This year’s 5 in 5 predictions focus on accelerating the discovery of new materials to enable a more sustainable future, IBM said. In line with the UN’s global call to action through its Sustainable Development Goals, IBM researchers are working to speed up the discovery of new materials that will address significant worldwide problems.

Researchers are exploring how technology can be used to reinvent the materials design process to find solutions to such challenges as fostering good health and clean energy as well as bolstering sustainability, climate action, and responsible production, the company said.

IBM said it is committed to dedicating its technology, talent, and resources toward advancing research and the discovery of new materials, including five core areas in the next five years:

  1. Capturing and transforming CO2’s harmful emissions into usable energy. 

  2. Recreating fertilizer with help from AI to help feed the world–while reducing carbon emissions.

  3. Rethinking batteries and energy storage before we have to rethink our world.

  4. More sustainable computing components, leading to cleaner devices and a cleaner planet.

  5. Driving toward a healthier future by being better prepared for viral threats.

The impetus for the initiatives has been accelerated by the global pandemic and global warming and the fact that “2020 has illuminated the essential role of science—as well as clear actions based on that science—to combat some of the greatest challenges of our time,” IBM said. “The need to rethink how the world creates, consumes, and disposes of materials has never been clearer, from storing energy more efficiently, to removing CO2 from the atmosphere to growing food more sustainably.” 

Speed up antiviral treatments

With regard to producing antivirals, IBM is pledging over the next five years “to help facilitate the generation of treatments to help physicians and front-line workers combat novel, life-threatening viruses within on a larger scale than is currently possible.”

One way to generate treatments more quickly for emerging viruses like COVID-19 is by identifying potential therapies from drugs already on the market that have been tested and proven safe for humans, the company said. This can jumpstart subsequent research to help enable more rapid clinical trials and regulatory review.

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“A combination of AI, analytics, and data can potentially help with the rapid analysis of real-world medical evidence to suggest new candidates for drug repurposing and speed clinical trials,” IBM said. “The goal will be to help the medical community identify new patterns amid the medical records of millions of de-identified patients and generate insights about the epidemiology of infectious diseases and potential treatments for them.”

“Accelerating scientific discovery is at the heart of the 2030 agenda,” said Shereen Zorba, chief of the Secretariat of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment, in a statement. “We are proud to work with IBM to help tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Removing plastic waste in oceans

Specifically, IBM and the UN will work to rid the world oceans of an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste through discovery and innovation, Zorba said. 

A new UNEP-IBM Marine Litter pilot is using AI and IoT to consolidate knowledge, address data gaps, and create platforms for accountability, transparency, and multi stakeholder cooperation, she said.

“The convergence of ethical and equitable frontier technologies has the potential to revolutionize environmental action and promote circularity. To that end, we need to create the enabling policies, financing, and conditions,” Zorba added.

The world has no shortage of problems to solve, and the need for clear action has never been greater, said Kathryn Guarini, chief operating officer and vice president of impact science, IBM Research, in a statement.

“Advancements in science and technologies like AI, quantum, and high performance computing are allowing our researchers to speed up the discovery of new materials that will address a myriad of societal problems in a fundamentally new way—from storing energy more efficiently to growing food more sustainably.”

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