AI and the environment: What are the pitfalls

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a rapidly evolving technology with a significant environmental impact. The global AI market, currently valued at $142.3 billion, is projected to reach nearly $2 trillion by 2030. However, the environmental implications of this growth are concerning.

AI’s carbon footprint is substantial. Training a single AI model can emit up to 284,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide, equivalent to nearly five times the emissions of a car over its lifetime. This energy-intensive process occurs in data centers, which account for 2-4% of global CO2 emissions, comparable to the aviation industry. Furthermore, the application phase of an AI model, such as online translation or chatbot responses, can contribute up to 90% of the emissions in the life cycle of an AI.

The environmental impact of AI extends beyond carbon emissions. The technology’s demand for water and electricity is high, leading to resource depletion and contributing to electronic waste. For instance, Google’s data center in Santiago, Chile, has exacerbated drought conditions in the region, sparking local protests.

Moreover, AI is used to accelerate activities that exacerbate climate change. Algorithms designed for advertising increase consumption, leading to significant climate costs. Tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have been criticized for their AI contracts with fossil fuel companies, which use AI tools to expand oil and gas operations, undermining climate commitments.

However, solutions are being proposed to mitigate AI’s environmental impact. These include designing algorithms with environmental considerations, using smaller data sets, training AI on efficient hardware, and utilizing data centers in regions reliant on renewable energy.

Regulation is also crucial to ensure sustainable AI development. The EU is currently working on the AI Act, a landmark legislation to govern AI and classify tools according to perceived risk. It remains unclear whether environmental concerns will feature in the bill.

In conclusion, while AI holds immense potential, its environmental pitfalls cannot be overlooked.

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