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普通人也能解决大问题

发布者: 五毒 | 发布时间: 2022-5-28 06:30| 查看数: 111| 评论数: 0|



One winter morning, a couple of years ago, I was driving to work in Johannesburg, South Africa, and noticed a haze hanging over the city. I make that drive on most days, so it was unusual that I hadn't noticed this before. Johannesburg is known for its distinctive skyline, which I could barely see that morning. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was looking at an enormous cloud of air pollution. The contrast between the scenic environment I knew and this smog-covered skyline stirred up something within me. I was appalled by the possibility of this city of bright and vivid sunsets being overrun by a dull haze.

几年前的一个冬天早晨,在南非约翰内斯堡,我开车去上班时,注意到城市上空笼罩着一片雾霾。我几乎每天都会开车经过那儿,但这次很不寻常,以前我从没见过这样的景象。约翰内斯堡以它别具特色的美丽天际线闻名,但那天早上却几乎看不到。很快我意识到,我看到的正是由空气污染引起的严重的雾霾。我旧日所熟知的那个优美环境与此刻雾霾笼罩的天际线之间的对比,在我心里翻涌不息。我担心很有可能曾经色彩多变的日落美景将被阴暗的雾霾所吞噬。

At that moment, I felt an urge to do something about it, but I didn't know what. All I knew was I couldn't just stand idly by. The main challenge was, I didn't know much about environmental science air-quality management or atmospheric chemistry. I am a computer engineer, and I was pretty sure I couldn't code my way out of this air pollution problem. Who was I to do anything about this issue? I was but a citizen. In the following years, I learned a very important lesson, a lesson we all need to take to heart if we are to work towards a better future. Even if you're not an expert in a particular domain, your outside expertise may hold the key to solving big problems within that domain.

在那一刻,我感到有一种冲动,想做点什么,但我不知道该做什么。我只知道我不能袖手旁观。最大的挑战在于,我并不了解环境科学、空气质量管理,或是大气化学。我是一名电脑工程师,而且我非常确定,我并不能靠编码来解决大气污染问题。我将以什么身份来解决这个问题?我不过是个市井小民。在接下来的几年里,我学到了非常重要的一课,如果我们想要实现更好的未来,我们都应该把这一课铭记在心。即使你不是某一领域的专家,你的专业技能也可能蕴含了解决那一领域问题的方法。

Sometimes the unique perspective you have can result in unconventional thinking that can move the needle, but you need to be bold enough to try. That's the only way you'll ever know. What I knew back then was that if I was even going to try to make a difference, I had to get smart about air pollution first, and so I became a student again. I did a bit of basic research and soon learned that air pollution is the world's biggest environmental health risk. Data from the World Health Organization shows that almost 14 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2012 were attributable to household and ambient air pollution, with most occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

有时候,你所持有的独特视角可以激发出非常规的思维从而左右局势,但你需要大胆去尝试。唯有如此你才能够知晓结果。当时我所知道的是,如果我想要尝试去改变,我必须先对污染有足够了解,所以我又做回了一名学生。我做了一些基础研究,很快了解到大气污染是世界上最大的环境健康风险。世界卫生组织的数据显示在2012年,全世界几乎14%的死亡事件都是由家庭及周边的大气污染造成,在中低端收入国家尤为常见。

Ambient air pollution alone causes more deaths each year than malaria and HIV/AIDS. In Africa, premature deaths from unsafe sanitation or childhood malnutrition pale in comparison to deaths due to air pollution, and it comes at a huge economic cost: over 400 billion US dollars as of 2013, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Now, in my work, I explore new frontiers for artificial intelligence, where the symbiotic relationship between man and machine can find a beneficial footing and help us to make better decisions. As I thought about the air pollution problem, it became clear that we needed to find a way to make better decisions about how we manage air pollution, and given the scale of the problem, it was necessary to do it in a collaborative way.

大气污染每年所造成的死亡率要高于疟疾和艾滋病。在非洲,不安全的卫生条件造成的早逝,或孩童的营养不良造成的死亡,在大气污染面前显得苍白无力,同时它还带来了巨大的经济成本:据经济合作与发展组织统计,2013年有关方面的支出超过了4000亿美元。在我的工作中,我探寻着人工智能的科技前沿成果,包括人类和机器的共生关系,找到有益的立足点并帮我们做出更好的决定。当我再想到大气污染问题时,事情变得明朗起来,我们需要寻找更好的方法做出更好的决定,考虑到问题很庞大,协同合作是非常有必要的。

So I decided I'd better get to know some people working within the field. I started to speak to officials from the City of Johannesburg and other surrounding cities, and I engaged the local scientific community, and I also made a few cold calls. The process of engagement I embarked upon helped me to develop a deeper understanding of the problem. It also helped me to avoid the trap people in my profession sometimes fall into when trying to innovate, where we are quick to apply a technology before we've firmly grasped the problem at hand. I began to develop an idea about what I could do to improve the situation.

所以我决定去认识一些在这一领域工作的人。我开始与约翰内斯堡以及其他周边城市的官员对话,我也加入了本地的科学社区,我还打了一些电话给完全陌生却相关的人们。我着手介入的这些经历帮助我更深刻地了解了这一问题。也帮助我避免了我这一行的人尝试创新时有时会掉进的陷阱:在尚未真正掌握问题之前,快速采用一项技术。我开始思考,我能做些什么来改善这种状况?

I started by simply asking myself how I could bring together in some meaningful way my skills in software engineering and artificial intelligence and the expertise of the people I'd reached out to. I wanted to create an online air-quality management platform that would uncover trends in pollution and project into the future to determine what outcomes can be expected. I was determined to see my idea translate into a practical solution, but I faced uncertainty and had no guarantee of success. What I had was a very particular set of engineering skills, skills I'd acquired over my career that were new to people who had been working on the air pollution problem for so many years.

我开始问我自己,该如何有效融合我在软件工程和人工智能方面的知识技能以及我所联系的人们的专业技能。我想要创建一个在线空气质量管理平台,去揭示今后的污染趋势,进行相关预测来判断可能会发生的结果。我确信我的想法能够成为一个现实的解决之道,但也面临着不确定性,我并不能保证它一定成功。我所拥有的就是一套特定的工程师技能而已,从我的工作中所获得的技能,当然,对于多年来一直在大气污染领域工作的人而言,我的技能是全新的。

What I have come to realize is that sometimes just one fresh perspective, one new skill set, can make the conditions right for something remarkable to happen. Our willpower and imagination are a guiding light, enabling us to chart new paths and navigate through obstacles. Armed with a firmer understanding of the air pollution problem, and having managed to source over a decade's worth of data on air pollutant levels and the meteorological conditions for in and around Johannesburg, my colleagues from South Africa and China and myself created an air-quality decision support system that lives in the cloud.

我逐渐意识到,有时候一个新颖的视角,一个新的技能组合,可以催生一些卓越的事情。我们的意志力和想象力是一盏指示灯,指示我们越过阻碍,开启新篇章。我对大气污染问题进行了更深入的了解,寻找到过去十几年的大气污染数据,以及约翰内斯堡及周边的气象数据。之后,我同南非和中国的同事一起创建了空气质量决议支持系统,并将其上传到了云端。

This software system analyzes historical and real-time data to uncover the spatial-temporal trends in pollution. We then used new machine learning technology to predict future levels of pollution for several different pollutants days in advance. This means that citizens can make better decisions about their daily movements and about where to settle their families. We can predict adverse pollution events ahead of time, identify heavy polluters, and they can be ordered by the relevant authorities to scale back their operations. Through assisted scenario planning, city planners can also make better decisions about how to extend infrastructure, such as human settlements or industrial zones.

这个软件能够分析历史和实时数据来揭示污染随时间和空间变化的趋势。我们随后用新机器学习技术提前数日预测未来污染情况。这意味着居民可以就他们的每日行程以及和家人在哪里定居,做出更好的决定。我们可以提前预知不利的污染事件,界定重度污染源,使得相关权威机构可以下指令来调整他们的经营活动。通过辅助场景规划,就如何拓展基础设施工作,如工业区的居住安置,城市规划者也可以做出更好的决定。

We completed a pilot of our technology that was run over a period of 120 days, covering all of South Africa. Our results were confirmed when we demonstrated a tight correlation between the forecasting data and the data we were getting on the ground. Through our leadership, we have brought cutting-edge, world-leading assets that can perform air-quality forecasting at an unprecedented resolution and accuracy, benefiting the city that I drove into one winter morning not very long ago, and thought to myself, "Something is wrong here. I wonder what can be done?" So here is the point: What if I'd not investigated the problem of air pollution further?

我们已经建立了该技术的一个先行试点,运行了120天,覆盖了整个南非。我们的预期结果得到了验证,我们展示出的预测数据和我们实地采集的数据表现出了紧密的相关性。通过我们的管理层,我们引入了尖端的、世界领先的尖端仪器预测大气质量,其解析度和正确率都是前所未见的,让我在不久前的冬日早晨所驶入的城市能够受惠,那时我对自己说,“有些东西不对。我得想办法做些什么。”所以,重点在于:如果当初我没有深入调研大气污染的问题呢?

What if I'd not shown some concern for the state of the environment and just hoped that someone, somewhere, was taking care of the matter? What I have learned is that, when embarking on a challenging endeavor that advances a cause that we firmly believe in, it is important to focus on the possibility of success and consider the consequence of not acting. We should not get distracted by resistance and opposition, but this should motivate us further.

如果我没有关注国家的环境状况而是寄希望于某些地方、其他的某些人来管这些事呢?我从中学到的是,当全力推进一项我们都深信不疑的事业时,关注成功的可能性并考虑不作为的后果非常重要。我们不应该为反对和阻力分心,它应该激励我们走得更远。

So wherever you are in the world, the next time you find that there's some natural curiosity you have that is being piqued, and it's about something you care about, and you have some crazy or bold ideas, and perhaps it's outside the realm of your expertise, ask yourself this: Why not? Why not just go ahead and tackle the problem as best as you can, in your own way? You may be pleasantly surprised. Thank you.

所以无论你在世界上哪一个地方,下一次,当你发现你天生的某种好奇心被激起,而它也事关你所在意之事,你有一些疯狂或勇敢的想法,即使这并非你的专业领域,问问自己:为何不试试呢?为什么不用你自己的方式,尽你所能地去解决这个问题呢?你或许会得到意外之喜。谢谢。


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