AI, blockchain and other new tech is also killing the planet

CO2
Image credit: ClaudioValdes / Shutterstock.com

You know those statistics that are intriguing, like how much does all the data on earth weighs and what does the centre of the galaxy smell like*?

And they make you wonder how on earth ‘they’ know, well, how about these:

  1. How much CO2 does the average bitcoin transaction use?
  2. How much CO2 does it take to train a large AI model?
  3. How many humans are actually doing the work that we are told is being done by AI powered machines?
  4. How green do you think you are?

Answers:

  1. One transaction on a blockchain can burn as much energy as a house burns in a week. The number of bitcoin transactions in a week is approximately 323, 526 (lol). Of course, bitcoin transactions are just a fraction of the total number of blockchain transactions and this is set to grow exponentially.
  2. Training is expensive but training large AI models is really expensive. Almost five times the lifetime emissions of the average American car (including its manufacture). And, as the article by MIT points out, this accounts for just one training cycle – there will need to be further training involved.
  3. AI is in the process of taking away mundane jobs and allowing people to do more valuable jobs or head to the hills or beaches, right? Maybe one day but right now a surprising number of badly paid humans are doing the things that you think AI is doing. According to The Pew Center, around 20 million people are making sure that your Uber driver has been recognised after his haircut or the takeaway you ordered is correct.                                                                                                          More scary are the numbers of people now being employed to moderate content on platforms such as Facebook. Because actual AI is not up to the task (yet) thousands of people are being employed in – allegedly – revolting conditions (or from home) to spend their day looking at images that we never want to see – murder, rape, animal abuse and evil rants – around 200 of them a day, each. One person in Florida had a heart attack at work (of, course, no-one would be able to prove conclusively that it was directly because he was gazing at some ghastliness when it happened, but smoke and fire…). Another content moderator has said that ‘Facebook should be shut down’.
  4. You personally are probably doing the best you can. It is others, companies who should know better who are not letting on that they are not doing well at all, and probably don’t care.

The message from this short quiz is that a) we should do better – and stop pointing the finger so enthusiastically at the [insert name of polluting, unpopular] industry. Interestingly if you look at image databases and ask them to search for ‘killing the planet’ it comes up with thousands of images of plastic and factories and protests – none of tech. Not one. The problem is that the companies doing this probably think that using humans instead of robots is a good solution because it is only interim after all. Soon, AI will do the nasty stuff for us.

Let us hope so.

The only light in these ever darkening shadows is that quantum computing is so vastly different to conventional computers and computing that, apparently, it produces virtually no heat or pollution at all.

Bring on the quantum computer then.

(* 50 grams and rum, it tastes like raspberries)

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