How AI affects the environment: electricity

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"The complex environmental toll of Artificial Intelligence:
AI is very much mostly not green technology"
Devika Rao, The Week US (21 March 2024)

I do not mean to be an alarmist or a negativist, but this is something that people are talking / concerned about, so we should take a look at it too.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been advancing quickly, and demand is growing across the world. With this shift, the need for electricity is also growing at a potentially unsustainable rate. Experts worry that power development will not be able to keep up with AI growth. AI can also fuel misinformation and harmful spending which can worsen the climate crisis. Can the negative side effects of AI coexist with the technology's potentially positive attributes?

AI is gradually becoming a larger part of our lives as it carves its way into a number of industries and everyday technologies. "The artificial intelligence compute coming online appears to be increasing by a factor of 10 every six months," said Elon Musk at the Bosch Connected World conference. (AI "compute" refers to the "computational resources required for artificial intelligence systems to perform tasks, such as processing data, training machine learning models, and making predictions," said Komprise.)

The biggest risk AI poses for the climate comes from the sizable computing it requires. "It is important for us to recognize the CO2 emissions of some of these large AI systems," Jesse Dodge, a research scientist at the Allen Institute for AI in Seattle, said to Scientific American. It is also difficult to ascertain how much AI will truly affect the climate because "different types of AI — such as a machine learning model that spots trends in research data, a vision program that helps self-driving cars avoid obstacles or a large language model (LLM) that enables a chatbot to converse — all require different quantities of computing power to train and run," said Scientific American.

The marvels of AI boil down to the flow and control / manipulation of electricity (like the neurons of our brains).  Similarly, bitcoin mining requires enormous amounts of electricity.  Much as we admire and rely on Google in all of its manifestations, it requires vast farms of energy gobbling supercomputer servers to store its oceans of data.  All of this electricity has to come from somewhere, and its usage generates large amounts of heat, which significantly alters the surrounding environment.

We tend to think of electricity as "clean", but that's only at the user end.  At the maker end, it is usually "dirty" in brutally physical ways.

Ah, if only we could capture, harness, store, and distribute the raw, electric energy of lightning bolts!  In the mythic age, Zeus had his Keraunios (Κεραυνιος ["of the Thunderbolt"]; Latinized Ceraunius), Thor had his hammer Mjölnir, and Indra had his vajra.  In the modern era, Nikola Tesla built his mega generators:

Getting there.

Selected readings

[Thanks to Wang Chiu-kuei]


  1. Dick Margulis said,

    March 22, 2024 @ 6:52 am

    I wonder whether putting a hard stop to bitcoin mining might mitigate the problem. Bitcoin mining consumes huge amounts of power. How does society benefit from that?

  2. Gene Hill said,

    March 22, 2024 @ 11:25 am

    Well, this concern must be AI generated. Very similar to fear of cattle flatulence. It's a fear mascaraing as a scientific reality. A politically developed motivation to support a globalist ideology. I keep seeing news media referring to CO2 as a pollutant. Instead of an essential stage of oxygen transition. And lightening in fact does a constant (clean up) conversion of CO2 back to O2 and Ozone. Our lungs are constantly recombining Oxygen with waste carbon to create CO2. And despite the fact that all living matter requires this stage of Oxygen. The amount of CO2 in our atmosphere is less than 1%. I think this witch hunt was generated by AI and it's

  3. Chester Draws said,

    March 22, 2024 @ 6:12 pm

    Ah, the old "Experts worry …"

    Experts worry about all sorts of things. Locally we have an "expert" who is still worried that we are getting on with our lives and not living in daily fear of Covid 19. He's literally a professional worrier. If he doesn't worry, he won't get any attention.

  4. Chester Draws said,

    March 22, 2024 @ 6:14 pm

    I'd be a LOT more worried about all the electric cars that are going to have to supplied. That's not even a theoretical concern, but a very pressing real one.

    But electric cars are "good" so we shouldn't worry about them. AI is "bad" though.

  5. Tom Dawkes said,

    March 23, 2024 @ 9:18 am

    @Gene Hill: Is "It's a fear mascaraing as a scientific reality" simply putting a brave face on it. You can add this to your malapropisms thread for "masquerade".

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