AI both part of the problem and solution to climate change

July 3, 2023

AI and its effect on climate change

AI has the potential to help in the fight against climate change and is already having an impact according to Google DeepMind executive Colin Murdoch.

In an interview with Bloomberg Murdoch said that AI has the potential to accelerate innovation in energy production and to help people to better deal with the effects of climate change. He anticipates that AI could lead to the creation of “limitless” clean energy solutions.

He said that AI has made it possible to make “much more accurate weather predictions to help communities and companies around the world adapt to increasingly extreme weather”. 

Murdoch also spoke positively of the partnership between Google DeepMind and the University of Toronto. They’re researching liver cancer treatments by using AI to understand proteins in the human body.

Murdoch seems positive that AI is the key to some big problems that humans are yet to solve. Let’s hope that happens quickly because AI is also contributing to problems like climate change.

AI and its environmental impact

While AI appears to be a promising solution it’s also very resource hungry. The chips that power AI machines require rare earth minerals like zinc and mercury to be mined to make them. The servers that run the algorithms need a lot of power and most of that is coal powered. 

Besides power and minerals, AI also consumes a lot of water for cooling. A recent study found that “training GPT-3 in Microsoft’s state-of-the-art U.S. data centers can directly consume 700,000 liters of clean freshwater”.

And while AI is being used to solve a lot of these problems it’s also being used to accelerate things like oil and gas extraction.

While it’s easy to point out how resource-hungry AI is, the potential for the balance shifting into the green seems a more likely outcome. Recently there has been an uptick in companies using AI to make a positive impact on the environment. Like Greyparrot which now uses AI to efficiently sort recycling.

With environmental sensitivities around AI being highlighted it’s good to see some really smart people feeling positive that it will solve more problems than it creates. Recently VC billionaire Marc Andreessen wrote an article where he claimed that “AI will save the world”. 

Andreessen has certainly made a lot of money but he was also the co-founder of Netscape, which came to an untimely end. Let’s hope he’s got it right this time and that AI helps the environment hold out a bit longer than his browser did.

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Eugene van der Watt

Eugene comes from an electronic engineering background and loves all things tech. When he takes a break from consuming AI news you'll find him at the snooker table.


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