Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Reader Comment – AI Environmental Problems

This last weekend, Eric Gallant (@eric_gallant), a fellow writer that I trade comments with on TWITTER.com, left a comment on one of my Short Takes posts. One of the articles pointed to in that post was a press release from the office of Sen Markey (D,MA) on the introduction of S 3732. Eric noted that:

“The environmental impacts of AI were thought-provoking.”

When I posted about the introduction of S 3732, I commented that:

“I will be watching HR 7197 [apparently a companion bill] and S 3732 for language or definitions that would explain how the crafters believe that there would be any significant environmental effects on the environment (the Terminator movies not withstanding).”

Well, the Markey press release provides that explanation:

“For example, increasing AI use could contribute to data center electricity demand doubling by 2026, leading to more carbon emissions. Demand for water to cool data centers is already creating concerns about water supplies, and the chips needed to run AI software are contributing to a growing mountain of electronic waste.”

While neither HR 7197 nor S 3732 have been published by GPO/Congress.gov, the press release provides a link to a draft copy of S 3723. Section 2, Findings, of that draft lays out the type effects that Markley, et al, expect to find in the reports required in the bill. While those concerns seem to be legitimate and should be substantiated and quantified by the reports, it is clear from the bill’s language that the AI concerns are really more appropriately concerns about the operation of large server farms regardless of the focus of the individual facilities.

If one wanted to focus on just a small part of the problem by looking at facilities of questionable societal utility, I would think that cryptocurrency farms would be a better target than AI. 

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