'Iron Man' actor Robert Downey Jr. vows to use robotics and AI to clean up the Earth

'Iron Man' actor Robert Downey Jr. vows to use robotics and AI to clean up the Earth

Robert Downey Jr. may be done with playing the tech billionaire Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that doesn't mean he's not looking to use technology to improve the real world.

On Tuesday night, the actor made a surprise appearance as a keynote speaker at Amazon's new conference in Las Vegas: Machine Learning Automation, Robotics and Space (re:MARS).

The joke-filled talk referenced his role as Tony Stark, his history with drug addiction, the history of artificial intelligence, and even a videotaped guest appearance by Matt Damon.

"Quick disclaimer, I don't pretend to understand the complexities we face as a species, just because I portrayed a genius in my professional life. My scholastic achievement peaked at a correctional finishing," Downey Jr. said, speaking about the fact he ventured beyond high school education.

"On the flip side, I did play and interesting and iconic character for 11 years, Tony Stark," he said, before adding that he loved the character because he transformed from a "soulless war profiteer to a man who was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the community".

"Interestingly enough, when you want to change, the universe puts people in your life that facilitate that," he said.

Taking inspiration from the fictional superhero, Downey Jr. announced that he is launching a new initiative called Footprint Coalition. The idea is to use robotics and artificial intelligence to clean up the Earth and hopefully reverse its carbon footprint over the next decade.

As the 54-year-old explained, this idea came from a conversation he had with experts in the field earlier this year:

"Recently, I was at a table with super smart, impressive, expert folks about six months ago, and the following statement was made: 'between robotics and technology, we could probably clean up the planet significantly, if not entirely within a decade'.

"Being essentially a 54-year-old child, I said, 'Let's do it! Let's commit to a process, let's form a coalition.' And that did not inspire the reaction I expected. It was dead silence."

The experts he was speaking to believed that the technology was capable of achieving what he spoke of, but few of them believed that it would actually get done. They believed that bureaucracy and intellectual property disputes would get in the way, while intergovernmental cooperation would be necessary but near-impossible to manage.

"I know it's a kumbaya type dream. It's a logistical clusterf**k," he said. "I'm down with dedicating myself to maybe one small part of making good on that statement, even in abject failure, it's still the best idea I've ever had."

Footprint Coalition will officially begin in April 2020 (the website isn't even set up yet), and Downey Jr. is planning on spending "the next 11 years" working on the ambitious project. "I've got to do something. I'm unemployed," he joked, referencing his departure from Marvel movies following Avengers: Endgame.