Teen explores today's tech to protect the future

Hinsdale's Dylan Singla wanted to produce a podcast to explore the intersection of sustainable practices and artificial intelligence. He set up a website and had a couple contacts. But would any highly placed experts in the educational, conservationist and business realms really sit down with him for a 30-minute discussion?


"I thought I'd be lucky to get five of them to reply," Singla said of his outreach efforts. "If they're passionate about their job and you're passionate, too, they're more than happy to help."

The high school senior has now conducted 17 interviews for his "Sustain AI Planet" podcast, including the director of sustainability at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a top executive at an AI consulting firm and a U.S. Congresswoman.

The Monroe School and HMS alum said his fascination with using cutting-edge technology to address natural world issues was kindled two summers ago during a two-week group excursion to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. There he worked alongside scientists studying the implications of climate change on the body of water that separates Baja California from the mainland.

"The Sea of Cortez used to be heavily polluted," Singla said. "The local communities started to really take care of the sea, and it went from among the worst water quality in the world to one of the best."

The following fall he returned to his New Jersey boarding school and joined its Sustainability Council to help educate and encourage fellow students in the promotion of environmentally friendly initiatives on campus. The increasing pervasiveness of AI gave him an idea.

"I noticed how much AI was involved in the little things that I did," he said. "I thought why don't I go out and try and make the connection or try and find the connection (between AI and sustainability)."

Last summer he created the website http://www.sustainaiplanet.com and lined up interviews and produced the podcasts. They were finally uploaded to the website a few months ago.

"It's been a long process," Singla remarked.

The response has been quick, however, even before the episodes made their way to the internet's top podcast platforms in recent weeks.

"Just the amount of traction the website gained was like nothing I could have imagined," related Singla, noting that it's been viewed in more than 50 countries. "I've just heard a lot of support from people," he said.

The site also offers a "Sustainability Solutions Toolkit" with ideas and tips that his successors at Monroe turned into a school challenge.

"While it did first start as a podcast, it became more of wanting to teach other kids and help foster that passion in others," he said of the project.

The next months promise intense college application work. But the podcast will continue, Singla assured.

"It's not something I'm stopping now," he said.

"Every interview I do, I'm still learning something new, and that's what kind of excites me about it," Singla continued, citing his talks with Wake Forest University Assistant Director of Sustainable Engagement Brian Cohen and Congresswoman Miller Meeks (D-Iowa) among his favorites. "I find that very interesting."

- story by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean