I am thrilled to announce that Sustainability in the Digital Age (SDA) is now launching as an international research for action partnership with Future Earth, Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, the International Science Council (ISC) and the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt or UBA). Each of these partners brings essential strengths to the SDA mission to advance research, innovation, and action that leverages the digital age to drive transformative system changes for a climate-safe, sustainable, and equitable world. With financial support from Les Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ), ClimateWorks Foundation, and Montreal International, SDA will be hosted by Concordia University in Montreal.
Future Earth provided the initial launch pad for SDA to develop into an independent initiative and continues to contribute expertise from its extensive network of systems scientists. Mila, founded by Turing Award Laureate, Yoshua Bengio, is an AI research institute with over 500 researchers specialized in the field of deep learning. Mila’s AI for Humanity program promotes socially responsible and beneficial development of artificial intelligence and will work with SDA to determine priority areas for digital transformations and sustainability. ISC brings together over 150 international, national and regional scientific organizations in the natural and social sciences, and the Digital Revolution is a key domain of its current Action Plan. ISC is exploring big data for grand challenges and the development of a global digital charter, both in line with our collective Montreal Statement on Sustainability in the Digital Age. Finally, UBA’s joint initiative Digital Planet for Sustainability is working with SDA, ISC, Future Earth and United Nations programmes to convene the science community, government, UN bodies, tech companies, and civil society to embrace the opportunities of digital solutions to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. All of this work adds up to a larger synchronized effort to accelerate the transformation we want to see.
This announcement comes at a transition time for me personally as I recently moved on to become the Global Lead for Sustainability Science at Microsoft. In my new position, I will continue to engage with the international digital community to advance action that leverages AI and the digital age towards sustainable, transformative change, and I will remain on the SDA Board of Directors.
The program development will be led by a new Director who we expect to have in place later this fall. Scientific guidance for this next phase will be led by an international team of advisors from the AI, natural and social sciences, co-chaired by two new Scientific Co-Directors for SDA, Dr. Damon Matthews and Dr. David Rolnick.
Damon is the Concordia University Research Chair in Climate Science and Sustainability and will be serving as interim Director of the initiative and as permanent Scientific Co-Director. He is internationally recognized for his work in policy-relevant climate science, as well as for initiatives such as the Climate Clock and Pledge to Lead that use digital visualization and web-based technologies to motivate and accelerate climate action. As the director of the new Leadership in Environmental and Digital Innovation for Sustainability (LEADS) program, which was developed in partnership with SDA, Damon will also bring to our initiative an enthusiasm for supporting the career development of sustainability leaders, as they lead the drive towards global transformations.
David is assistant professor in the School of Computer Science at McGill University, a core academic member of Mila, and co-founder and chair of Climate Change AI, an initiative that catalyzes impactful work at the intersection of machine learning and climate change. His research focuses on understanding deep learning and on applications of machine learning to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
With this scientific leadership now established, core funding in place, and these new partnerships cemented, I am confident SDA will continue expanding the network and advancing research and action at this key intersection of sustainability and digital innovation. I look forward to what comes next, as we grow together on our collective journey to the same goal. Onward!
Global Lead for Sustainability Science at Microsoft