What if Siri et al can tell us that simple changes in our personal lifestyle can make the big difference in reducing our carbon footprint?
There are 7.4 billion people right now (1) and there are also 2.08 billion people with Smart phones worldwide (2) and these smart phones have easy access to Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Now. These virtual or digital assistants have tons of potentials of helping people from finding direction to opening emails and seeking out information which will be the basis for daily decisions or actions of people. Remember Cookie monster telling Siri, “set timer for 14 minutes” and happily fiddling and sneaking a peek at the oven waiting for his cookies to bake. Though there are still certain tweaks or adjustments of these kinds of apps for them to perform better in the future and learn to read more (study made about human learning suggested that computer learns the same way as people by reading. (3)
The more people read the more they learn. Computers behaved exactly the same but with one clear advantage i.e., computers can be inputted with limitless data and information.
Our team’s goal is to team work with programmers from Google, Microsoft and Apple etc. and help them create or develop their respective apps -- Google Now, Cortana and Siri to answer personal questions relating to carbon footprint and about climate change in general.
But why Siri? Because Siri is often funny, non threatening and studies made of human behavior like the Fun Theory(4), initiated by VW initiative showed that more people (66% of them) took the stairs instead of the usual escalator when they painted the stairs or steps leading to a Stockholm, Sweden subway like the musical piano keys. This set out to prove that people’s behavior can be changed for the better by making mundane activities fun.
What actions do you propose?
“The fate of our planet will be determined in the next few decades, through our technological, lifestyle, and population choices” Bill McKibben, A Special Moment in History
It’s so difficult to communicate climate change because climate change to us humans is so abstract and gradual and makes us tend to under think the threats of climate change. (5) Google Trends two years ago noted searches of the term climate change has been on a declined since 2004 with majority still so skeptical and even disavowed the science behind it. (6)
Siri et al have limitless potentials they can learn (read) like people according to an article and we can tap those potentials. (See endnote 3)
As of now Siri behaves like any searches boxes where you type your query and out comes the link. When you ask Siri what climate change she will direct you to a wiki link, although you can ask her to read the article.
What if Siri et al can help us determine our personal carbon footprint?
My wife and I did these using, The Nature Conservancy calculators. After asking us to fill up series of questions about home energy, driving and flying and food and diet we had a 9.3 tons of greenhouse gas emissions contribution per year compare that to the US average of 27 tons per person per year. The 9.3 tons is a bit higher than world average per person of carbon emissions but since we are in the US our carbon foot print is way, way below the US average. These owing to our decisions to use one car and to frequently utilize public transportation instead and other simple life adjustments.
This is how Siri et al can help us (more engaging, more fun and more "personal" versus impersonal filling up forms to calculate personal carbon foot print or searching for links like the traditional Google searches wherein people are not so predispose to do as survey about climate change searches have shown), by asking a series of questions and when people are using their smartphone anyway Siri et al can provide us with our personal carbon footprint in no time.
The proposal will only work out if MIT Colab, our team and these tech giants can sit down and discuss the infinite possibilities of adding more to Siri’s, Cortana’s and Google Now’s capability to dole out carbon footprint personal profiles, tips, techniques and guides in a fun and engaging way and more likely people will have a change of heart and avoid “under thinking” the seriousness of the climate change threats in our generation and future generations to come. At least in our time, our legacy to the future will be, we tried fixing it too for you.
Collaboration with tech giants lately by Apple (known for green office undertakings) vis-à-vis IBM in providing big data analysis for business and mobile technology have been undertaken in the past (seehttp://www.apple.com/business/mobile-enterprise-appsand so our proposal for collaboration will not be new! Thus, why not on climate change and shifting behavior using engaging and hilarious Siri et al.
Moreover, society’s values and mindset should need adjusting too. So aside from the importance of assets and liabilities, income and earnings etc., why not a personal carbon footprint valuation. If my carbon footprint is way below the averages then I must be doing great in taking care of the environment. Our society – schools, workplace and social media network and with this kind of valuation e.g. 9.5 tons per year versus the US average of 27 tons per person per year will put you in good standing or in high esteem in society (reputation).
Over and above, the substantial decrease (sacrifices, choosing alternative options) in your carbon foot print emissions, you can also continually donate cash and support to green organizations like Nature Conservancy and support all their efforts at making the world a better place to live and breathe. That way even if you have carbon emissions of 9.5 tons personally per year and since you are making donations to green organizations then it goes without saying that you are further helping decrease the greenhouse gas emissions as a whole. Moreover, as we adopt simple changes too like not brushing your teeth with running water, bringing your bags when going to the supermarket and other simple and practical things or activities sooner or later and collectively all these actions will make as the song would go ...."a better place for us (the world)...."
Who will take these actions?
People in the technical field of programming, computers and apps development as well as those in communication will be able to take actions in improving Siri and the like in climate change communication and education. Tech adopters (those with smartphones and devices) will be the end users and will take the actions to personally improve their carbon emission profiles or scores, since we envision lesser personal carbon emissions as being rewarded in the near future, thanks to MIT Climate Colab other universities joining the project and of course the tech giants who made possible for Siri et al to communicate climate change in a fun and engaging way.
Where will these actions be taken?
Every person worldwide with access to Smart Phones and computers, that is potentially 2 billion+ people worldwide talking to Siri et al about their personal carbon footprint, household carbon emissions and even other tips, vignettes of climate change challenges from around the world and how these challenges were overcome.
How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?
A lot! This is just one concrete example of the “thousand little actions” that Siri et al can dish out for us in a fun way -- to change our lifestyle and l help reduce our carbon footprint on earth.(7)
Question Siri: what can we do with our driving to reduce our carbon footprint?
Siri: Did you know that when you drive better you lessen your carbon footprint. You could save more than a ton of CO2 per year by doing these things --
– Accelerating slowly & smoothly
– Driving the speed limit
– Maintaining a steady speed
– Anticipating your stops & starts
There are a lot more that Siri et al can do including helping us create our personal carbon footprint estimates presently with those of the future and allow us to reduce our carbon footprint one activity in life to another. Imagine a world where reducing carbon footprint will qualify you for a job, land you a scholarship and receive benefits or incentives, because your “green or environmental” statement of assets and liabilities are good.
What are other key benefits?
Other key benefits for using Siri and other smartphones and computer applications will have more people with greater access to it. There will be no boundaries, no language or culture barriers in having a sensible talk with Siri about climate change and what can I simply change in our personal lifestyle or habits to reduce our carbon foot print. Access without boundaries so to speak.
Moreover, using these digital assistants or AI will have the other benefits of confirming other studies made by Prof Hanses (8) ;
People change their behavior if you focus on one behavior to change at a time. People use their smartphones as a matter of habit for easy access to information and without appearing as naïve and foolish one can ask questions from Siri and you get sensible and actionable answers to reducing carbon footprint.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The costs will be borne by these tech giants helped by universities worldwide in tweaking improving Siri “reasoning power”. The tech giants will soon benefit from improving Siri et al since present assessment of experts pointed to just Siri and Google now as making the grade (9) since in the end they too will benefit from sale of their computers and phones through improved digital assistants apps which help people do better work and enjoy life. The Nature Conservancy and other green organizations may pitch in too vis-a-vis providing some of the resources, questions, data and surveys made yearly pertaining to the the average worldwide and country to country like the US average per person greenhouse gas emissions.
We expect In the short term that Siri and other apps can help us immediately considering the urgency of the climate change scenario wherein people are sans taking any actions yet to reduce their carbon emission in the personal level.
The interest worldwide which is declining and the number of skeptics including believers who have no inkling yet what simple changes in their lifestyle can do is still unimaginable.
In the long term apps like Siri at home (master controller and capable of sleeping and waking on the job) can do shutting off your thermostat or adjusting and notifying you when to open your email and computer i.e. only if you receive an email your expecting; turn of the the led lights too of your appliances; even shut off gas valve when sleeping Siri detects gas leakage.
Even when you enter your room you can whistle or talk to Siri and she will open the lights, the curtain etc.
The lists of what Siri et al can is only limited with the limits we put to our thinking and creativity. In sum, there are impossible things for us humans to do but with Siri probably the statement "impossible" is not true at all. Siri can make us laugh, why not make Siri help us believe in climate change. Shifting behavior as the fun theory said can change people for good! To segue a bit there was a project to make people throw their garbage properly. Fun theorists placed a detector and whenever trash is thrown inside the garbage bin, a crashing or thud sound as though the garbage bin interior is so deep, put hilarity and smile to people around. This made other people seeing what is happening with those who came before them and try to duplicate what others experienced before them -- throwing their garbage and expecting the sound. (Please see Endnote 4) Personally, a talking garbage can that sounded like the character in Sesame street, Grover may put a smile and solve garbage disposal on the streets with Grover's saying simple "thanks buddy" or "merci beaucoup".
1. Information sourced fromhttp://www.worldometers.info/worldpopulation
2. Data sourced fromhttp://www.statista.com/statistics/330695/numberofsmartphoneusersworldwide
3.UniversitaetTübingen. (2014, January 20). Forget about forgetting: Elderly know more, use it better. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 20, 2016 fromwww.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140120090415.htm
4. Fun Theory culled fromhttp://list25.com/25-intriguing-psychology-experiments
5. From why we worry about the things we shouldn’t - The psychology of risk by Jeffrey Kluger, page 67. Time Magazine, December 2006).
May 21, 2014, Interest in climate change has waned, Google Trends reveals
7. Imaginary conversation with Siri culled from this source:https://carbonfund.org/reduce
8. Studies from Harvard Business Review, MANAGING PEOPLE
Ten Ways to Get People to Change by Morten T. Hansen, September 21, 2012
9. Sourced from which is the best digital assistant: Siri, Cortana, Alexa or Google Now? by Heather Kelly @heatherkelly, July 28, 2015:http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/28/technology/digitalassistantinterview