Pinetree — photo by @anniespratt

Talking About Artificial Intelligence and the Climate Crisis

Drifting Off Into the Distance of a Fast Moving Field

Whenever I start to talk to anyone about the climate crisis and AI I often see people veering off, looking into the distance, loosing attention, or not caring. It may very well be because of my lack of skills in conveying the message, or because of the urgency itself. Initially people are interested when they hear about the topic, easy to be excited about two seeming ‘buzzwords’ bundled together into a heap. While this is fine, there is sure to be confusion and perhaps disappointment when I talk of the problems existing at the current time in the technology industry.

One way to see this is through the lens of ‘futuring’, in x amount of year – twenty year or so y trend will be ‘booming’ I promise you. If you do not move quickly now, oh well, you are going to be left behind. I read an article about pneumonic tubes, the pneumatic tube mail system. In an article written by Farman.

comparing the clunky automobile and its limitations with the futuristic (and militaristic) missile of the pneumatic tube canister being shot under the Harlem River. Sending mail in canisters pushed by compressed air under the streets of a city was seen as the essence of being cosmopolitan and modern. Image courtesy of the National Archives, Washington, D.C.

The article that Farman has written is called: Invisible and Instantaneous: Geographies of Media Infrastructure from Pneumatic Tubes to Fiber Optics. It is a long title, however in this article an important point about time is brought forward, alongside the cost of infrastructure. Considering the extent of Internet connections today it is not challenging to draw a small line between what was happening then and now with Internet of 5G. In his conclusion he writes.

“Users of emerging technologies are continually told that new systems will speed up the ways they keep in touch with one another. There is no doubt that technologies since the telegraph and pneumatic tube system have indeed sped up human communication; howe ver, users will always have a time lag that makes them wait. The notion of the “instant” that accompanies all of these emerging technologies is never fulfilled yet has an extraordinary impact on how users of these media think about social connection. Central to analyzing this impact is studying how users think about wait times for messages from one another”

This makes me think of the attempt to convey urgency of a slow moving process or several novel concepts blended into one. Not many people go around with their phones worried about the impact of the electronic gear that they carry, nor do I often with what I am writing on to make these posts online. There is a discrepancy between the thought and the action, a disconnect, a disembedding of the relationship between the extended object. Your phone in your hand, connected to server, connected to humans, connected to other being, connected to nature, connected to life, and so on.

A strange connotation would be to say ‘wait’, because the primary meaning is negatively associated. Waiting is not a positive action. Hurrying into a situation, or getting somewhere early is mostly correlated with a positive action. Speed is a positive action, affirmative in work, university, with friends etc. Depending on of course if you arrived early to a party. Farman says:

“How we wait for messages from each other will say more about our social lives in an increasingly urbanized landscape than the latest technologies we use to keep in touch.”

When I wait for the reply of the other party, to ponder their interest in this area, it feels as thought they should care — and this is where I may be wrong. I have to be patient and find out what they are interested in to begin to care. Abstract concepts of planets melting, worlds in trouble and such is a hard sell to for example the consultants that I work with. Many argue that they are very concerned and are moving to do thing, to change, to take actions. However when I follow up with a simple: how? Words don’t come easy. Maybe a cardboard sign would help.

I can ask myself the same question and I will continue to do so, to try to understand better. This chaotic development of artificial intelligence whatever it is and whatever it may become when it is between people from different backgrounds with different ambitions as to what AI should be. AI have pondered the shades of grey in AI projects and AI for good, however it may be time for me to actually attempt to work more applied and help more applied.

Earlier this week I outlined questions that could be used to approach these queries, however I did not go further in outlining each and every way to move forward within each question or category. This is perhaps what I need to do to contribute to not only discussions, but rather actions for more responsible use of applied AI or research in the field of artificial intelligence. If we run and keep running, we cannot outrun the consequences of the execution, frantically attempting to catch up will not do.

Then what?

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 172. 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