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Balancing the Digital Revolution: The Carbon Cost of AI & How to Offset It

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The digital era, with its promise of smart solutions powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), is both awe-inspiring and challenging. While AI's incredible potential to shape sectors from healthcare to climate change is undeniable, its environmental impact cannot be overlooked.

Assistant Professor Raghavendra Selvan draws attention to this very point: the environmental ramifications of the rapidly advancing AI technology. The tech sector's carbon footprint is on par with the aviation sector, and as digitalization proliferates, so will its carbon emissions.

Understanding AI's Carbon Footprint

In the race to tap into AI's potential for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development goals, the massive resource footprint of the technology is often overshadowed. Every time a machine learning model runs, data is processed, stored, or forgotten as "dark data," there's an associated energy consumption that translates to a carbon footprint.

This paradox is what Raghavendra Selvan terms as “Climate-Aware AI” – an effort to reduce AI's carbon imprint. The idea isn't to curb AI's potential but to harness its power responsibly.

Micro Solutions: Efficient Algorithms and Eliminating Redundancies

By enhancing algorithm efficiency and eliminating redundant computations, the energy consumption for each AI process can be optimized. The concept of “dark data,” which refers to unused and forgotten data that still consumes energy in storage, further emphasizes the need for regular data audits.

Macro Solutions: Timing and Location of AI Computations

Beyond individual processes, we can also make systemic changes. For instance, by scheduling AI model training during non-peak hours, energy consumption can be linked to renewable sources, which in places like Denmark, are most active off-peak. This not only reduces the carbon footprint but could also lead to monetary savings given the intertwined nature of carbon intensity and electricity costs.

Awareness: The Catalyst for Change

The green movement in the tech sector is already making waves with data centers advocating for eco-friendly services. Yet, the majority of sectors remain untouched by this green wave, primarily due to the lack of robust measurement tools and, more importantly, awareness.

Just as the call to reduce air travel has resonated globally, it's crucial for the implications of unchecked digital growth to be understood universally. As Selvan puts it, "It makes it much easier to act on something if you are informed."

Join the conversation on sustainable tech at the Digital Tech Summit 2023 from 8-9 November, where Raghavendra Selvan will delve deeper into Green ICT and Climate-Aware AI.

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