One more in my series of notes on AI. I’d like to raise another ethical question, namely energy. Here’s some background.
The ethical problem is simple and unanswerable: how much energy are we justified in using to create such models?
The energy use of AI modelling is driven by the fact that they have to create extremely large datasets through highly intensive number crunching. This is ultimately moving electrons around, which requires energy and generates heat; the same heat that’s coming out of your computer or phone now, just a lot more of it.
When making more advanced systems, the basic method is to use bigger datasets—which in this case is limited, since it requires more human translation as input—or more intensive data-crunching. To enable, for example, the kind of “context-aware” translation spoken of above, which expands the data vectors beyond a single segment, is orders of magnitude more complex. This is a basic physical constraint. Of course you can do things more efficiently, but the problem is that efficiency gains tend to be linear, while complexity increases exponentially. This is why the field as a whole keeps demanding more and more energy.
Now we can address this with practical solutions:
- more efficient chips
- use renewable energy
- make more efficient systems
Which, fun fact, are the very arguments used by the crypto bros to justify burning the planet so they can play with their toy money. Crypto and AI are similar in that they both aim to replace or enhance conventional technologies with highly energy-intensive computational processes. Of course, crypto uses this to run scams and fleece fools of their money, while AI can, in principle, be used for good things. But still, it should prompt us to consider these ethical questions seriously, and not just fob them off.
There should be a story front and center about these ethical considerations. Is there an ethical justification for applying AI in this context? What is it? How much energy use is too much? What are the criteria that AI projects should consider when evaluating their energy usage?