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The growing energy footprint of artificial intelligence

Joule / Full text free to read: “Alex de Vries is a PhD candidate at the VU Amsterdam School of Business and Economics and the founder of Digiconomist, a research company dedicated to exposing the unintended consequences of digital trends. His research focuses on the environmental impact of emerging technologies and has played a major role in the global discussion regarding the sustainability of blockchain technology. Throughout 2022 and 2023, artificial intelligence (AI) has witnessed a period of rapid expansion and extensive, large-scale application. Prominent tech companies such as Alphabet and Microsoft significantly increased their support for AI in 2023, influenced by the successful launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a conversational generative AI chatbot that reached 100 million users in an unprecedented 2 months. In response, Microsoft and Alphabet introduced their own chatbots, Bing Chat and Bard, respectively. This accelerated development raises concerns about the electricity consumption and potential environmental impact of AI and data centers. In recent years, data center electricity consumption has accounted for a relatively stable 1% of global electricity use, excluding cryptocurrency mining. Between 2010 and 2018, global data center electricity consumption may have increased by only 6%. There is increasing apprehension that the computational resources necessary to develop and maintain AI models and applications could cause a surge in data centers’ contribution to global electricity consumption. This commentary explores initial research on AI electricity consumption and assesses the potential implications of widespread AI technology adoption on global data center electricity use. The piece discusses both pessimistic and optimistic scenarios and concludes with a cautionary note against embracing either extreme.”

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