The U.S. Department of Energy and Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced a partnership to develop artificial-intelligence tools aimed at helping first-responders better react to fast-changing natural events, such as floods and wildfires.
“There are just so many technologies where we can solve some of the toughest problems, in a moment where we’re having an explosion of wildfires and floods and some really major natural disasters,” said Cheryl Ingstad, director of the Energy Department’s Artificial Intelligence and Technology Office. “And we think we can bring AI to bear here and help save lives.”
The First Five Consortium, a nod to the importance of the first five minutes in responding to a natural disaster, aims to build between 10 and 30 different AI-powered systems. The Energy Department will spearhead the development and testing efforts. Microsoft will provide technological resources, including its Azure cloud for AI model training and inference. Other organizations, including public- and private-sector entities, are expected to participate.
AI plays a role in each by analyzing massive and disparate data sets—such as blaze temperatures or wind direction—in real time, which can help first responders better allocate resources or inform the public, said Susie Adams, chief technology officer in Microsoft’s federal government unit.
“People aren’t good at synthesizing that information really quickly,” she said.
Ms. Adams said the group will tap Microsoft’s Azure cloud to store various data elements, such as images of past wildfires and how they have progressed. The platform also comes with pre-trained AI models for tasks such as object-detection. Energy Department and Microsoft engineers will also use the platform to customize new AI models.
They said having systems that can provide real-time information or even can simulate real scenarios, can make a difference.
“With simulation, if you can make more realistic scenarios, you can plan better for the extremes,” he said. “It’s not only being able to better respond, but also having realistic scenarios out there that we can prepare and train for.”
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