Full Disk Earth, Apollo 17, 1972 — by @nypl

A Planet-Centered Approach to Artificial Intelligence

Making Artificial Intelligence Work For Our Shared Ecology

It seems almost strange that these days when we are approaching a more human-centered design that we should go beyond these considerations, and yet it makes sense. Human-centered design is a clear focus in artificial intelligence (AI) today especially in the communities concerned with ethics such as the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI). They are doing great work to convey the importance of repsonsible use of AI. However there have been large scale climate protests around the world and this has increasingly been recognised by those who build digital technology.

When I was at the climate protests in Oslo I took this picture that went viral. It was because of the strong message conveyed by a young girl from Thunberg to this cardboard I think we need to think more closely.

Leaders in Technology Must Act Responsibly

There is no room to act irresponsible in technology, not anymore. I have written too much about the current state of the industry, and much like many other industries overall it is not impressive — although there are a few magnificent exceptions that can make you believe it is possible to change.

Indeed Climate Change is a clear point for several technology companies and they have to be to a larger degree, but how do we go about making artificial intelligence climate-friendly, or even sustainable?

The good answer that it doesn’t really work that well. We may have to adopt a mentality applied to other areas of society — namely considering consumption and reusability alongside recycling. We need to reduce, reuse and recycle in the field of artificial intelligence, but how could this look like in practice?

Reducing the use of Artificial Intelligence

I have a project called #500daysofAI so out of interest I would like to see more great AI projects, however contrary to the hype or obsession I think we should think about where we should not or do not need to use artificial intelligence or machine learning techniques. If you ask yourself the question:

  1. Do I need applied AI here?
  2. Could I solve this problem in any other way?
  3. If I make this solution does it need almost constant cloud connectivity to run and how much will this influence emissions?
  4. How efficient do I need my solution to be and what is the tradeoff in terms of environmental costs in release of carbon or damage to the environment?
  5. Where is my datacenter, and how much data am I storing? Do I need all this data or am I just storing because I do not know what to use.
  6. How can I help other developers, companies, governments and nonprofits reduce their use of machine learning techniques in an area where it may consume too much power or not be needed in the first place?

Reusing Artificial Intelligence

Have someone built a great solution that you are able to use already which works for the given purpose, great! Because training algorithms can be both time-consuming and release a lot of carbon, especially if you use Amazon data centers as they are more likely to use fossil fuels.

  1. Does my project exist as an open-source project somewhere?
  2. Could I partner up with an existing company with a solution that works instead of creating my own from scratch?
  3. What type of moves can I make locally for digital commons projects that enables more sharing of AI solutions.
  4. What communities of AI exists around the world that you could tap into and collaborate with? As an example: https://city.ai/
  5. How can I test that the solutions that I have received or that I am using is climate friendly? This is not easy, but take part in developing standards: https://github.com/daviddao/green-ai
  6. Have you thought about all the hardware required to run your machine learning algorithms, if you are a large company that will likely be a sizeable amount. Where were these minerals sourced, how will they be recycled and did you ask if they could be reused later?

Recycling in Artificial Intelligence

Electronics require a lot of energy and resources to build and maintain. It is crucial that every company using technology considers their emissions and consider themselves responsible for recycling every single electronic product that pass through their halls or make that requirement strongly known to all of their business networks. The field of AI is about software, but the field of AI is also of course hardware.

  1. Do I recycle my own electronic products?
  2. Does my company recycle all electronic products?
  3. Does my server supplier recycle all their electronic products?
  4. Does the supplier to my server supplier recycle all their electronic products?
  5. Am I aware of the materials that are used in the electronic products that I buy?
  6. Is the product that I am buying able at all to be recycled?
  7. Is the product that I am buying open hardware or is it easy to change parts so that I could repair it instead of buying a new product?

…but Planet-Centered is Not Enough

When I say planet-centered we must keep in mind the concept of sustainability, the world is very much intertwined, and we become increasingly aware of this fact with adverse consequences effecting all humanity. We could say life-centered because it is about all the other species in our ecology, but I think a wholesome approach is to be preferred with plants as well as nature part of this mix.

Being able to sustain ourselves does mean taking care of each other. Using these different concepts together might be fruitful, but it is important that we make sure that all human-centered design does not forget the importance to be responsible in regards to the climate.

The planet needs more responsible technology.

We need it too.

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 168. I write one new article about or related to artificial intelligence every day for 500 days.

AI Policy and Ethics at www.nora.ai. Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own. twitter.com/AlexMoltzau