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Concerns about the environmental impact of advanced technologies like AI are fueling debate over whether computing applications and the chips that power them should be regulated. That’s according to experts speaking at the “Innovative Technologies for a Sustainable Planet” conference organized by the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Technologies including artificial intelligence and cloud computing use energy that creates carbon emissions. At the same time, many of these technologies also help companies meet sustainability goals, which means companies need to strike a balance between rapidly adopting and scaling emerging technologies and understanding How those technologies can affect the overall environmental impact of their business.

Peter Henderson, a doctoral student in computer science at Stanford University, said during a panel session at the conference that environmental impacts depend on scale, especially for technologies like artificial intelligence. Companies often optimize artificial intelligence algorithms to address concerns about energy use and carbon emissions before implementing a machine learning model.

The point is to make sure we don’t grow to the point where it’s harmful to the environment, when the goal of much machine learning work is AI for social good.

Peter Henderson

PhD Student, Stanford University

“The point is to make sure we don’t get to a point where it’s harmful to the environment, when a lot of machine learning work is aimed at AI for social good, where we want to build more sustainable things, we want Batteries, improve energy networks,” he said. “But if all this reform leads to more negative than positive effects, it’s not worth the work.”

In addition to company initiatives to improve such technologies, government efforts are also needed to provide rules for the use of AI, Henderson said. Although some efforts to regulate AI are already underway in the European Union, they do not fully address the environmental impact of the technology.


Targeting The Environmental Impact Of AI

According to Henderson, EU AI regulations are aimed at protecting consumers rather than the environment.

A significant part of the AI ​​ecosystem comes from GPUs that power AI and machine learning models, he added. He said the regulation would have to cover chips and other technologies using AI to address concerns about environmental impact.

“Here in California, there was a recent regulation that certain GPUs can no longer be sold here because they’re not efficient enough,” Henderson said. “This could be a way to drive innovation and force more efficient chipsets.”

While there are incentives for companies to use more efficient chips, such as lower costs. Henderson said this is still an area that needs to be considered from a regulatory perspective.

He added that the lack of data on the environmental impact of technologies. Such as AI, cloud computing and bitcoin makes effective regulation difficult.

“The first step is to make sure we have sufficient reports. Sufficient data to make good policy and regulatory decisions,” he said.


Salesforce Executive Talks Sustainability

Measuring a company’s total carbon footprint is a difficult task. With a large number of reports traditionally based on actual measurements, said Kathy Baxter. Principal architect of the Ethical artificial intelligence practice at Salesforce, who also spoke at the conference. rather than estimate.

“There’s no way for us to know if we’re really getting better. And to be able to see what’s correlation, what’s causation, identify that,” he said. “If you don’t know where your emissions are coming from, there’s no way to control them.”

Salesforce is actively pursuing sustainability goals, launching its NetZero Cloud to measure Scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon emissions across. The entire value and supply chain for the company and its largest customers. doing. Scope 1 and 2 emissions are directly controlled by the company, while scope 3 emissions are outside the company’s control. Such as companies in its supply chain.

More data is needed to promote sustainability efforts, Baxter said.

“There is no way that one company, one government can solve this problem,” he said. “We have to group. Our data and we have to find solutions together.

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