The Environmental Impact of AI - Should We Be Worried?

The Environmental Impact of AI - Should We Be Worried?
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Over the last month, tech giants such as Microsoft and Google have been competing for first place in the AI race. With Google implementing artificial intelligence into its search engine in the coming weeks, Microsoft has already begun the rollout of ChatGPT within Bing.

Adding large language models (LLMs) could completely change how we access information online. It has been argued that the changes will give a richer and more streamlined user experience however what exactly does it take to power this sort of technology?


The buzz surrounding these innovative tools, especially ChatGPT, is unparalleled. However, the high demand for ChatGPT often leads to it being unavailable due to an excessive number of users accessing the software at the same time.

The drive to be the best and cater to the largest amount of users could result in a significant increase in energy consumption. AI-powered search engines consume a substantial amount of computing power, which could result in tech giants emitting even more carbon.

Alan Woodward, professor of cybersecurity at the University of Surrey has claimed that "there are already huge resources involved indexing and searching internet content, but the incorporation of Ai requires a different kind of firepower".  

Training this AI software that supports programmes such as ChatGPT means analyzing and processing connections within vast amounts of data, which is why they have typically been created by companies with substantial resources.

Strong Competition

Google is set to roll out their own version of ChatGPT, Bard. With the assumption that AI integration into search engines is to consume a sizable amount of energy, Google adding this feature is set to leave a significant carbon footprint.

Neither Microsoft nor Google have disclosed the computational power they are consuming to launch their advanced AI systems. It was estimated by researchers that training GPT-3, which is what ChatGPT is powered by, consumed 1,287-megawatt hours which is said to equate to 550 round trips between New York and San Fransisco.

Postives & Negatives

On a lighter note, AI can be used to improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, and monitor environmental impacts in real time. For example, AI-powered smart grid systems can optimize energy usage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. AI can also help track and prevent illegal deforestation, wildlife poaching and poaching ground, and other environmental crimes.

On the negative side, the development and deployment of AI technology require significant amounts of energy and other resources, which can contribute to environmental degradation and climate change. Additionally, if AI systems are trained on biased data, they can perpetuate and even amplify existing environmental injustices.

Overall, it's important to consider both the potential benefits and drawbacks of AI in order to ensure that its development and use have a positive impact on the environment. This can be done through responsible sourcing of materials and energy, transparent and ethical use of data, and the development of environmentally friendly AI technologies.

Tej Kohli is a philanthropist, technologist and investor.

Find out more about Tej Kohli: Tej Kohli the technologist investing in human triumph, Tej Kohli the philanthropist trying to cure the developing world of cataracts and Tej Kohli the London tycoon with a generous streak.

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