Alex Moltzau 莫战

Aug 27, 2019

5 min read
Photo by @nhphoto

Artificial Intelligence and Being Sustainable

A difficult conundrum in between

Writing in a programming language is frustrating and engaging. Considering the applications of technology that I see around myself I find it perplexing how it all works. Computers are in such a vast variety of objects. I have several in my pocket, the phone and the bank cards. Python is so popular nowadays it bring back memories of learning English. As a Norwegian going abroad was strange to say the least and from learning English since primary school I thought that I was able to speak fluently. I was of course wrong. In England the diverse mix of words and dialects in different areas requires navigation. Even words or phrases I thought I understood were rediscovered.

Learning Python is somewhat reliant on having learnt English as many resources online are written in this language. Writing my first lines of code seems ironic after writing about machine learning and artificial intelligence for more than 80 days. Then again it is the beginning and 80 days is nothing more than a few months. However I am not new on all accounts. Going from one language to another you pick up a few things.

I am simultaneously learning Mandarin so you could easily argue my focus is divided. The situation in the world is often referred to as a race in regards to artificial intelligence and the two main actors said to be the US and China. In an International Relations perspective this may make sense. Thus if I want to gain an understanding of ethics I venture into politics and with technology I venture into communication. I have discussed my eclectic interest prior to this post. Sustainability in particular is an eclectic interest.

It is slightly shameful that I have ventured into this obsession with people's obsession about artificial intelligence when there are so many pressing issues. I may not be the person to disenchant the tech sphere, that is if they require disenchantment? By arguing against solutionism and that problems cannot be solved by technological innovations alone while focusing on understanding these innovative approaches I may very well have chosen the wrong focus.

A mesh of wanting to understand people, technology on a ground level through ethnographic fieldwork while being interested in the quantified bigger picture is highly confusing. I read recently of intellectual debt. We are experimenting with projects we do not fully understand. This can be tagged onto developments in medicine and is relevant in regards to the lack of explanation in certain advanced algorithms. By understanding that it works, but not how it works there is still some work that remains to be done. We cannot progress without regress or digress. We cannot look forward without looking backwards, in a metaphorical abstract sense.

Whenever I talk of such things it is labeled as philosophy, however I am not much of a philosopher it is the practical implications that I am concerned with. It seems so easy to become a naysayers or a combination of positive cheerleader and pseudoscientist. In this context have you heard about pseudocode? If you are programming perhaps: it is the code that you wrote to understand the issue you are solving before you create a program, the instructions prior to the creation of the instructions or the outline/sketch. It is not real code, but it is done in the intention that it may become if you make a further effort.

If so this is pseudoscience. It has different connotations or associations. I make broad generalisations after research articles, news and observations. If I speak of a conference regarding the importance of environmental and social thinking in regards to expanding data-everything is it a fear of the new? When data centres are built across the world with increasing energy requirements as well as increasing storage of data as well as interaction with this data is it a profound worry? It is frighteningly hard to say.

If I was a deep ecologist I might have cared more profoundly instead of caring professionally. I do not have any connection with nature as strongly. Yet survival is a matter of greater concern, and perhaps it is selfish. Then again an extended survivalist thought in regards to humanity as a global citizen or a tagline along these lines is a sentiment I identify with. Globalisation or glocalisation an identified area of action or reasoning, especially after being present at the Fridays for Future school strikes.

Yet I see the climate crisis and the lack of interest from certain technology communities. Not all technology communities of course, however no large technology company that I know of have declared a climate crisis. Most of Amazon Inc's data centres are powered with fossil fuels, as much else of infrastructure around the world. Have Facebook declared a climate crisis? Should they?

The crisis of everything seems imminent, yet it has to lead to change in organisation as well as regulation as much as the overall focus on long-term survival before short-term profit or gain. This is easily said or stated and should of course be stated yet requires a series of challenging small incremental situations to change.

Of course the choice of vegetarian diet rather than meat with produce closer to the location that you are in with responsible forms of transportation. After the recent crisis with Amazon forest increasingly disappearing to make room for cattle this seems an obvious issue. It is personal too in the troubling dilemma of denying my wife from another country the chance to visit her parents when her work does not permit a longer train journey or far longer time.

It lies in between also. Who is sustainable or not not sustainable, as such of good or bad? Who do we judge to be decent companies, human beings, entities or actors of any kind? Most are likely not at one extreme yet somewhere in between. Anthropologist would call it liminality, others transitioning, an unsafe space. At the protest I talked to youth who received anti-protest videos or pictures from friends on social media. Their friends were again criticised for not 'being there' or not 'being sustainable'. It is not as if we can eliminate this morality or moralising.

The uncanny valley is a common unsettling feeling people experience when androids (humanoid robots) and audio/visual simulations closely resemble humans in many respects but are not quite convincingly realistic. This concept was recently of uncanny valley was recently used by Elizabeth Cullen Dunn and Martin Demant Fredriksen about refugee camps in Eastern Europe. I thought this term of being in between was an interesting metaphor in a social science perspective and I may be applying it wrongly, yet I believe that so many are in an uncanny valley of sustainability. Not quite sustainable nor unsustainable. If you take one step into becoming more you become less.

Running programs and data centres with people in between. It is challenging to consider sustainability in the context of artificial intelligence. Do you see companies developing or researching artificial intelligence talking of receding glaciers; death of species; pollution; carbon emissions; and such? Some do, yet perhaps more needs to brings this closer into alignment with the development of AI.

This is day 84 of #500daysofAI