The Internet has quickly become an integral part of everyday life, with ITU estimating that 5.3 billion people (66 percent of the world’s population) on Earth are now connected. That’s a jump from 54% in 2019 and represents 1.1 billion new users over these 3 years.
Using the latest internet gadgets is undoubtedly a convenience for humans in different fields of life. However, all these gadgets and the internet contribute a major portion to greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Business Insider, the internet contributes 1.6 billion annual tons in greenhouse gas emissions.
The internet contributes 1.6 billion annual tons in greenhouse gas emissions. Google and Microsoft's AI search war will make it worse. pic.twitter.com/gLhEMNiBJJ
— Amardeep Singh (@limitlesspower7) February 13, 2023
AI makes up 4% of greenhouse gas emissions
Artificial intelligence has made digital life so much easier for users. With the rise of ChatGPT and other language models, there is also a valid concern about how much each of these AI models contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
A recent study by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst researchers have revealed a shocking environmental cost to training large AI models.
An emissions equivalent of over 626,000 pounds of CO2 from training these AI models is five times more than the lifetime carbon output from manufacturing and driving one car. It clearly shows that artificial intelligence comes with some alarming sustainability consequences.
Google and Microsoft’s role in CO2 emissions
The tech world is noisy with competition as Microsoft and Google go head-to-head in the fight to create AI for search engine capabilities.
Google and Microsoft are revolutionizing the way search engine results work with sophisticated language models.
Due to a surprising partnership between OpenAI and Microsoft, this race has only just begun.
With ChatGPT, Bing can now provide more natural-sounding answers to queries, while Google has unveiled Bard – an Artificial Intelligence service that promises even better answers to the queries.
ChatGPT reached 100M users in 2 months, and is expanding at an increasing speed.
Google Bard, if fully rolled out, will reach at least 1B users.
We are witnessing 2 largest deployments of big neural nets in history. A dance of giants. Unfolding in real time.
Drawn to scale 👇 pic.twitter.com/2wDrfLj8zL
— Jim Fan (@DrJimFan) February 7, 2023
However, the development of AI technology requires immense energy, contributing to carbon emissions that can total hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Additionally, the growth in internet usage is adding to global greenhouse gas output – already making up a stunning 4%.
Merging AI with the vast array of queries on search engines could require up to 5 times more computing power from tech giants like Google and Microsoft, according to experts.
“It requires processing power as well as storage and efficient search,” Alan Woodward, professor of cybersecurity at the University of Surrey, told Wired. “Every time we see a step change in online processing, we see significant increases in the power and cooling resources required by large processing centers. I think this could be such a step.”
Social media and streaming services
An in-depth analysis has revealed that some of the world’s most beloved online services have a greater carbon footprint than an airplane ride.
Compared to 14 hours spent on a flight, streaming video from sites like Netflix and YouTube for one day emits 51 times more CO2.
Amongst these four popular applications, it was found that Netflix is responsible for generating the highest emissions due to its high user base combined with 4K video delivery capabilities.