Our drinking water is something we take for granted, but given how much we pollute and overdevelop our water sources, we shouldn’t.
Water is expected to be the world’s most critical resource in the near future as more and more people want more and more of it. But in certain parts of the world, there may not be enough to go around.
And even in countries like ours where there’s plenty of drinking water in most places, the quality may leave something to be desired.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, think that artificial intelligence can help us save our water supply, though – and it’s pretty exciting for people like us who love water.
One Leading Threat to Water Systems
One threat to water systems around the world is the presence of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria.
Blue-green algae isn’t really algae; it just looks like it. It forms in lakes and ponds and water supplies and is fueled by man-made runoff from farms, cities, and other sources that pump phosphorus and nitrogen into the water. The cyanobacteria feeds off those elements and grows rapidly.
The danger of blue-green algae is simple: cyanotoxins. These are chemicals produced by the cyanobacteria, and they’re dangerous because they make us sick. Symptoms can range from dizziness to vomiting, diarrhea, and severe skin rashes.
For those reasons, it can make water undrinkable unless we spend the time and resources to purify it, which puts a strain on water systems.
How AI Can Fight Blue-Green Algae and Other Contaminants
The artificial intelligence software developed by the University of Waterloo can rapidly detect and identify strains of cyanobacteria in a water supply, far faster than what humans can do now. Early detection can result in intervention that is easier and ultimately less expensive to accomplish, giving water professionals a chance to protect the water.
One goal the researchers have for the software in the very near future is to provide continual monitoring of a water supply for a broader range of contaminants in water. Monitoring is crucial but it can be time and labor-intensive. If AI can autonomously detect contaminants, it can help water professionals keep water supplies – and the people who drink from them – safe.
This goal could be achieved in three to four years, according to researchers.
As one researcher, professor Monica Emelko, says, “It’s critical to have running water, even if we have to boil it, for basic hygiene. If you don’t have running water, people start to get sick.”
With new technology, we can help prevent more people from getting sick and protect our water supplies for the next generations.