Last November, I was on a panel with three other industry experts to discuss AI and its impact on sustainability. One of the questions asked went something like, “Can we use AI to solve the problems posed by AI?” It was an interesting discussion, and reading the content for this issue reminded me of it. So, I decided to ask ChatGPT. Here’s what the “conversation” went like:

Me: Can AI be used to help us solve the environmental issues posed by AI?

ChatGPT: Yes, AI can indeed be used to address the environmental challenges associated with AI itself.

Here are several ways AI can help:

1. Energy Efficiency: AI algorithms can optimize energy usage in data centers and other computing facilities, reducing the environmental impact of running AI systems. Techniques like dynamic resource allocation, predictive maintenance, and intelligent cooling systems can all contribute to energy savings.

2. Green AI Algorithms: Researchers are developing AI algorithms that are more energy-efficient and have smaller carbon footprints. These algorithms are designed to achieve comparable performance to traditional algorithms while consuming fewer resources.

3. Optimized Hardware: AI can be used to design more energy-efficient hardware for AI processing. This includes specialized chips optimized for AI tasks, as well as more energy-efficient architectures for data centers and computing infrastructure.

4. Environmental Monitoring: AI can analyze large volumes of environmental data from sources like satellites, sensors, and drones to monitor and manage ecosystems, track biodiversity, detect pollution, and predict natural disasters. This information can help policymakers make more informed decisions and take proactive measures to protect the environment.

5. Sustainable Agriculture: AI-powered systems can optimize farming practices, such as precision agriculture, to minimize resource usage, reduce waste, and increase crop yields. This can help mitigate the environmental impact of agriculture and contribute to food security.

6. Climate Modeling and Prediction: AI can enhance climate models by analyzing vast amounts of data to improve our understanding of climate change and make more accurate predictions about its effects. This can inform mitigation and adaptation strategies to reduce the impact of climate change.

7. Resource Management: AI can optimize resource allocation and usage in various industries, such as transportation, manufacturing, and energy production, to minimize waste and reduce environmental impact.

By leveraging AI technologies responsibly, we can harness their power to address environmental challenges and create a more sustainable future.

The root problem

None of this is new information, which isn’t surprising given the nature of how ChatGPT works. But, it’s not even addressing the root problem — we are perpetuating a society of wasteful, ignorant humans. I just saw an Instagram post from Alyssa Milano promoting a game to her followers (a lot of more than 3.5 million) because, if they play long enough to make it to level 12, the creators of the game will plant a tree. She said you could help the environment by playing the game. I asked how many trees you would have to plant to offset the carbon emissions that power the data centers in order for each player to play the game through level 12 and received no response. 

We have to stop ignoring everything we do that harms the environment just to celebrate the efforts we make to offset them. 

AI is not the root problem. We are. And using AI to figure out how we can use AI more isn't actually helping — it's making it worse.