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The Earth Machine: Science insurgents plot a climate model driven by artificial intelligence

Tapio Schneider, a German-born climate dynamicist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, believes climate science can do better. And he’s not alone. Later this summer, an academic consortium led by Schneider and backed by prominent technology philanthropists, including former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, will launch an ambitious project to create a new climate model. Taking advantage of breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI), satellite imaging, and high-resolution simulation, that as-yet-unnamed model—the Earth Machine is one candidate—aims to change how climate models render small-scale phenomena such as sea ice and cloud formation that have long bedeviled efforts to forecast climate. A focus will be on the major source of uncertainty in current models: the decks of stratocumulus clouds that form off coastlines and populate the trade winds. A shift in their extent by just a few percentage points could turn the global thermostat up or down by a couple of degrees or more within this century—and current models can’t predict which way they will go.