AI's Carbon Footprint
Sun, April 18, 2021

AI's Carbon Footprint

A study found that the training process of AI models produces over 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide / Credits: Olivier Le Moal via Shutterstock


"AI is one of those game-changers that's becoming ubiquitous across all industries. It's going to proliferate and become more embedded in all sorts of technology,” Marianne D'Aquila, an IDC research manager with expertise in cognitive and AI systems, said in an interview.

Indeed, we are seeing how AI simultaneously enters industries and transforms them in many ways. Research firm IDC reported that global spending on AI systems is projected to reach $97.9 billion in 2023 – up by 2.5 times from only $37.5 billion spent in 2019. It also predicted that 38% of the growth in AI will be in services as companies seek outside expertise to design and implement AI projects; 35% will be in software, and 27% will be in hardware, which includes devices such as Inc.'s Alexa-powered smart speakers. 

However, the rapid growth of AI negatively impacts our environment. A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst analyzed the energy consumption required to train several common large AI models. According to S&P Global, an American publicly traded corporation, it was revealed that the training process of AI models produces over 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent of about 300 round-trip flights between New York and San Francisco or nearly five times the lifetime emissions of an average car. 

Roy Schwartz, a researcher at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, an organization that seeks breakthroughs in AI through research, stated that companies competing to build stronger models that deliver better performance poses a greater threat to the environment. Studies showed that testing AI models is energy-intensive for several reasons. Thus, the more data they consume, the more energy is required.

"The larger you make these models, the more energy they consume. If we continue this growth, we will see a much more significant negative impact on the environment," he said.