Planetary Computer

Microsoft is jumping on the corporate sustainability bandwagon by creating the Planetary Computer, an environmental protection initiative that seeks to provide a central location for all environmental data to be aggregated. The Planetary Computer would include data collected from sources around the world and combine it into a centralized GIS that could be accessed by companies, government, and scientists. The ultimate goal behind the project is to provide a planetary dataset so that trends in global planetary health could be modelled, studied, and planned for by companies like Microsoft. Part of the Planetary Computer would be bringing in Machine Learning to analyze trends in planetary health as well, though this part of the project will develop with time as additional data is collected. Microsoft President Brad Smith sees the planetary computer as eventually capable of providing searchable dataset imagery, definable borders of forests that could be used for logging or conservationists, and current datasets on global freshwater supply. This project was announced in April of 2020, so the finer details are still being developed, but the ethical questions of a massive corporate entity storing and acting as the gatekeeper for global environmental knowledge come to the forefront. What protections would there be for such sensitive data? Would Microsoft assume ownership of all submitted environmental data and thus control the data’s distribution and use? How could environmental researchers and conservationists be ensured that the data they collect and submit won’t be used by industry to destroy what they are trying to monitor and protect? There are also questions of indigenous data being introduced to the Planetary Computer. Is it right to collect data and research on indigenous land that has already been stolen and plundered? What would be done about sensitive cultural data? Would Microsoft assume ownership over any sensitive information and assure it’s safe keeping if any proprietary information was submitted? The many aforementioned questions are just a sample of the ethical hazards posed by the Planetary Computer and will need to be asked continually as Microsoft moved forward with the project. 

Etherington, Darrell. “Microsoft’s new ‘Planetary Computer’ Project will use global environmental data to support sustainability.” Tech Crunch, April 15, 2020.

Smith, Brad. “A Health Society Requires a Healthy Planet.” Microsoft Blogs, April 15, 2020.


Climate Change, Data, Ecological Modelling, Ecological Monitoring, Industry/Natural Commodities, Lifestyle, Monitoring, Regulation, Visual Technologies