Spam filters protect us from unwanted e-mails, computer programs provide us with automated sports and stock market reports every minute, Siri and Alexa answer the questions of our everyday life. Artificial intelligences serve as smart helpers that change our lives and our use of modern technologies. AI should also relieve the environment: The development of artificial intelligence is usually linked to the promise of efficiency and resource conservation. But does AI really support a more sustainable life?

The CO2 consumption of AI

 

A few months ago, a study by the University of Massachusetts caused a sensation: researchers found that training a neural network that is used for natural language processing generated 313 million tons of CO₂ – as much as five vehicles in their entire life cycle. Even if it was no longer a secret that graphics processors for the so-called deep learning processes are energy-intensive, such messages are surprising. Especially in times when the political agenda is determined by the debate about climate protection, the study acts as a catalyst.

Internet pollution: How harmful are search engines really?

In 2009, Harvard physicist Alex Wissner-Gross calculated Google’s CO2 consumption: While the company itself assumes 0.2 grams of CO2 per search query, a search query actually caused a total of seven grams of CO2. Two searches therefore correspond to the energy required to brew a pot of tea.1 Google now processes 3.5 billion search queries every day, which leads to a frightening amount of environmentally harmful gases. The dilemma of the digitized society: Anyone who wants to find out more about climate protection on the Internet or want to rekindle on Facebook and Twitter about climate deniers is heating up the (discourse) climate and further intensifying the phenomenon.

KI as the ultimative climate killer?

Is AI the ultimate climate killer? The conflict of goals between knowledge and ecology becomes clear for the first time. Anyone who calls up a classic via Google Books and has the text translated by AI ensures that the mainframes in the server farms run at full speed. Such data centers already consume two percent of global electricity consumption and emit as much CO2 as the aviation industry. By 2025, data production could account for 20 percent of global electricity needs.1 Even though Google and other companies repeatedly emphasize that their server farms are operated with renewable energies, we pay an ecological price for knowledge. Data-driven capitalism is spreading almost imperceptibly. He uses fossil fuels to process ever larger amounts of data as “drivers”. In short: the more data the systems have to process, the more resources are required – and the more data has to be generated in order to create added value.

The massive global infrastructure we are building in the course of digital capitalism […] requires a huge amount of energy. ❝

— Greenpeace activist Gary Cook

But can we escape this? And if so, for what price?

 

These are questions that we probably cannot resolve here and today. Finally, we would like to highlight two things:

1. The study results from the University of Massachusetts caused quite a stir, but also showed that the optimization of current models could save CO2 in the long term. After all, if the programming of a voice-controlled navigation app consumes as much CO2 as five cars, but intelligently controls traffic, it reduces emissions, AI can ultimately make a contribution to climate protection.

 

2. The final food for thought that we want to give you on the way is whether we have to switch on artificial thinking systems for every cognitive task. The Watson supercomputer consumed 85,000 watts when he defeated two human players in a guessing show; the human brain only needs 20 watts. Instead of using Siri, Alexa and Co as digital supporters for every question and thereby fueling the data centers even more, we should again practice our own thinking skills. Because in the end the human brain is probably the most environmentally friendly thinking system.

But can we escape this? And if so, for what price?

 

These are questions that we probably cannot resolve here and today. Finally, we would like to highlight two things:

1. The study results from the University of Massachusetts caused quite a stir, but also showed that the optimization of current models could save CO2 in the long term. After all, if the programming of a voice-controlled navigation app consumes as much CO2 as five cars, but intelligently controls traffic, it reduces emissions, AI can ultimately make a contribution to climate protection.

 

2. The final food for thought that we want to give you on the way is whether we have to switch on artificial thinking systems for every cognitive task. The Watson supercomputer consumed 85,000 watts when he defeated two human players in a guessing show; the human brain only needs 20 watts. Instead of using Siri, Alexa and Co as digital supporters for every question and thereby fueling the data centers even more, we should again practice our own thinking skills. Because in the end the human brain is probably the most environmentally friendly thinking system.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/4217055/Two-Google-searches-produce-same-CO2-as-boiling-a-kettle.html

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