This 19-year-old is changing the way AI is applied to the biggest human challenges of our time

Nick Padmanabhan, Princeton sophomore.
Nick Padmanabhan, Princeton sophomore.
Nick Padmanabhan, Princeton sophomore.

Approximately seven in 10 teenagers and young adults believe that climate change will cause a moderate or great deal of harm to people in their generation. Nineteen-year-old Nick Padmanabhan is one of them.

But he’s not just sitting around worrying — the Princeton sophomore taught himself how to code at 13 years old, and he’s using his skills to fight for the cause he’s passionate about.

“I wanted to work on a project that would have an immediate positive impact on people adversely affected by climate change,” Padmanabhan said.

He was able to do just that this past summer through his internship at San Francisco-based startup ClimateAi. ClimateAi tackles two of the biggest challenges that the world faces: climate change, and how to feed the nearly eight billion people in the world. Those issues are linked — climate change causes extreme weather, which harms the global food supply chain and makes it difficult for growers to provide enough safe and nutritious food for the global population. ClimateAi uses state-of-the-art artificial intelligence technology to create world’s first climate resilience platform that allows farmers and food companies to make better agronomic and investment decisions.

Over the summer, Padmanabhan led a project that uses a completely unsupervised approach to monitoring and forecasting the health of the crops. The work is already been deployed with a couple of farmers and processors. This approach allows users to overcome the limitation of data availability at the field level, and could be a game-changer in assessing the impact of climate change on crops globally.

Padmanabhan is not only advancing the fight against climate change, he is also moving the field of artificial intelligence forward.

This approach can monitor the direct impact of climate on crops. When this model learns what different weather patterns mean for on-the-ground crop yields, it can predict how a harvest will turn out.

When decision-makers have access to better data and more definite scenarios, it results in better planning and bigger, more nutritious harvests to feed the growing global population.

“I’m excited by the notion that AI helps computers comprehend and make predictions about the physical world, as opposed to just the theoretical, intangible world,” Padmanabhan said. “In particular, I’m intrigued by its application to traditionally manually-driven areas like agronomics and agriculture, which opens the door to deeper yet practical insights we could never derive by hand.”

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