How Sustainable is AI?

5 mins

 Today, the technology we use on a day-to-day basis for hours on end (for both domestic and industrial purposes) devours an almost unsustainable amount of energy.


The UK’s Energy Consumption

Since the digital revolution began in the 1980s, electricity usage in the UK has fluctuated.

It almost doubled by 2005 but has since fallen again. As of 2021, consumption amounted to its second-lowest level this century.

The Fall in UK Energy Usage

However, that doesn’t mean we’re using fewer devices every day. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

Technology is being used so much that it is continuing to advance at an immeasurable rate. Computers, in particular, have doubled in power and speed roughly every two years since the 1960s (Source: Zippia). 

As they’ve improved, they’ve also become more and more energy efficient – explaining the steady decline in UK energy consumption. 

However, if recent reports are to be believed, there could be a surge in electricity usage on the horizon. By this time next year, everything could have changed.


The Growth of Artificial Intelligence

Over the last few years, Artificial Intelligence software has become a global phenomenon. 

Every day, over 25 million users log into Chat-GPT, bringing the total number of visitors to 1 billion in February 2023 (Source: Exploding Topics).

At face value, Artificial Intelligence seems like an asset to businesses everywhere; automating standard processes and increasing organisational efficiency considerably. 

However, in recent times, multiple experts have flagged the use of Artificial Intelligence as a complete and utter environmental disaster. 

“AI systems raise sustainability concerns linked to the natural resources they consume such as electricity and water, and the carbon emissions they produce.” - OECD


How Much Energy Does Artificial Intelligence Use?

Even Forbes (which is generally very positive about Artificial Intelligence) has recognised its environmental flaw, admitting that “the datasets used to train AI take an enormous amount of energy to run.”

In their article, they share research done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  – which discovered that training just one AI model can emit more than 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide.

This is nearly five times the lifetime emissions of an average car.


The Vast Amount of Energy Used By Artificial Intelligence

The actual volume of electricity consumed by Artificial Intelligence is incredible. If left unmanaged, it could have a damaging impact on life as we know it.

Even if we discount platforms like Chat-GPT (which may drop in popularity), robots are practically running the world around us.

Currently, 27% of Americans interact with AI at least several times a day and another 28% interact with AI up to several times a week.

Added together, this is a worrying amount of additional energy consumption that could have long-term effects on household prices.


Can AI Be Sustainable?

Businesses developing Artificial Intelligence, then, have a personal responsibility to be mindful of their influence.

By following the advice of Technology Magazine and being proactive in making strict environmental goals, they can negate the effects of the work they do.

To make Artificial Intelligence more sustainable, firms need to:

  1. Invest in the energy efficiency of the technology they develop.

  2. Use edge devices to host Artificial Intelligence instead of the current systems.

  3. Be more selective with their training resources to require less processing power.

This could help them become, at the very least, carbon-neutral. 


The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Sustainability

Still, there’s more that Artificial Intelligence could be contributing.

If our industry goes one step further to enlist the programmes we develop into our sustainability efforts, unique and innovative solutions could be forged.

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to run diagnostics and spot weaknesses in our systems, designing a way to make energy consumption a lot more efficient.

Already, both the UK and the US are starting to use machine learning in their electricity grids – significantly decreasing wastage and making distribution more effective.

Should we continue along this path in the future, Artificial Intelligence could be used to make the world a significantly better place. Before you know it, the engineers behind these technological advancements will be internationally celebrated for the work they do.


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