Ashlyn Chapman

How is AI bad for the environment?

Last week a friend asked me how AI is bad for the environment.

She's confused. How does software -- lines of code, text, words on a screen! -- influence the physical world?

Why software consumes energy

To start, every piece of software must run on a physical piece of hardware.

Every application (Chat-GPT, Bitcoin, Roblox) needs a computer to run it. Sometimes you download an application and run it on your own laptop (ex: Microsoft Teams). Other times, the software runs on someone else's computer in a data center far, far away (ex: Gmail). This second setup is "the cloud."

Usually, we connect to these faraway computers (servers) over the Internet. You need electricity to charge your laptop, servers also need electricity to run. Where is the electricity coming from? Unlikely a renewable source.

A lot of work goes into managing these servers. You know how your laptop gets super hot when you watch a movie and your laptop sits on your blanket on your lap? These servers get hot too.

Imagine you and everyone from your high school in the gym watching movies on your laptops. That's what it's like inside a data center. Super hot.

Data centers can use air conditioning or water to cool the area. Cooling with A/C consumes tons of energy. Powering and cooling servers the AI models train on consumes large amounts of energy. You've got to run the computer and regulate it's temperature for a lengthy period of time.

AI uses a lot of energy

AI raises red flags because "emissions from ChatGPT are much higher than from conventional search." 1 AI strives for predictive accuracy, not computational/energy efficiency.

You ask Google and Chat-GPT "how to make a pizza?"

Google returns some links to food blogs cluttered with ads.

Chat-GPT gives you step-by-step instructions immediately. No scrolling through Kayleigh's story about how her Italian great-grandmother made pizza dough.

The difference is that Chat-GPT uses about 60 times more energy per entry than a Google search.

ChatGPT consumes between fifty and ninety times more energy per query than a conventional (“Google”) search, with sixty times being the most likely estimate. 1

Our current IT infrastructure is not ready for this jump in energy consumption.

We need more efficient software and more powerful hardware. These could lower the amount of energy required to run AI applications.

We also need better, greener, renewable energies powering data centers.

AI is "bad" for the environment in the same way all software applications are "bad" for the environment. They consume electricity. Only AI consumes a whole lot more.

Resources & References

  1. Emissions from ChatGPT are much higher than from conventional search

#ai #environment #it