Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

CPP students maneuver AI programs for environmental welfare

By Noel Sanchez, September 19, 2023

Select geography students at Cal Poly Pomona participated in a project aimed at utilizing artificial intelligence for positive change in the world. The project, known as “AI for Social Good,” was first developed by the National Science Foundation three years ago to allow a number of California State University members to learn how ChatBots can be utilized to educate others about their surroundings. 

Artificial intelligence has developed rapidly over the past couple of years, making society adjust in every aspect of life. With job opportunities, education curricula and internet presences all being impacted by its rise, CPP has already been able to make a difference thanks to the AI for Social Good project.

CPP Assistant Professor of geography Gabriel Granco helped the initial launch of the project and further implemented the NSF’s goals into his own courses ever since the 2023 spring semester.

Granco currently teaches the course Climate Change and will offer Environmental Modeling during the 2024 spring semester. Both courses revolve around developing AI programs and tools that help educate others about ways to solve environmental issues and provide information about climate and recycling services.

“I want students to understand how we can make a difference with climate change,” said Granco. “As a geographer, I think a lot about how people interact with the environment and this project allowed me to teach students how computer science can make a positive impact on informing a mass audience about all the changes we are seeing.”

Pomona Trashbot is one example of a successful program developed by former students of Granco, and it was made to allow Athens Service to educate others about how to properly recycle and protect the environment. Tyler Andrews, CPP industrial engineering student and resident of Pomona, used this service before and believes this is the direction AI should be going in.

“Some of my classmates showed me ChatGPT last year and it blew my mind to think how some people were using it,” said Andrews. “However, once I discovered Pomona Trashbot and saw how easy it was to navigate through it and learn about how to take care of my hometown, it changed my whole perspective. Just like any powerful tool, AI needs to be used for the greater good and not be abused.”

Noel Sanchez | The Poly Post

Pomona Trashbot is just one of three student projects overseen by Granco featured in the first annual AI for Social Good Undergraduate Innovation Symposium. Zero Hunger and Fontana EnviroBot also received recognition and all ChatBots can be discovered and further studied on the official AI for Social Good website.

Ever since Granco and other leaders of the project pitched the idea for AI for Social Good in 2021, they had a vision for students to not only grow familiar with new technological advances but also recognize their opportunities to steadily make a difference in the geographical field.

“All actions make a difference,” said Granco. “Once you understand the basics of AI, you can create a ChatBot and people can learn from that ChatBot. My recent geography students developed a good perception of the environment in class, had patience and even though they made ChatBots, they were also thinking, ‘How can I connect this to Google Maps?’ or something like that to make it simple for users to receive their requested information.”

Esther Moreno, environmental biology student , learned about these AI-powered educational tools through peers at CPP and began implementing the use of them in her regular life.

“I listen to podcasts and watch videos that teach me about new ways to help the environment every day,” said Munoz. “When some friends of mine sent me links to these AI bots created by students, I was fascinated by all of its features. I am someone who is careful around new technology, but I hope to see more programs like these.”

The next step for Granco and the rest of the students and faculty members involved with AI for Social Good is to continue to spread their knowledge with CPP’s community.

“I just want to extend the invitation to anyone that wants to take my classes,” said Granco. “They can email me and any faculty members from CPP that want to implement a similar module on their course, I can also share the material for that. We just need more people using AI for good.” 

Students can learn more at the main website for AI for Social Good under the “Student Projects” section. 

Feature image courtesy of Lauren Wong

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