Home Energy, electricity, natural resources: Will the needs of AI cannibalize the needs of humanity?

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The monthly bulletin of LEAP (European Laboratory of Political Anticipation) - 15 Jun 2024

Energy, electricity, natural resources: Will the needs of AI cannibalize the needs of humanity?

At what expense? And to what end? These are two questions that should arise organically as artificial intelligence technologies are implemented. However, currently, this doesn’t seem to be the case. There is a stark contrast in attitudes among the political and economic leaders overseeing the development and deployment of AI technology. They appear to have rekindled an optimism about boundless growth potential in the various applications of AI. This leads our team to pose a provocative yet undeniably pertinent question: Will they prioritise our natural resources for the benefit of AI, potentially at the expense of humanity?

At a time when tensions over planetary limits are intensifying, AI operations are consuming unprecedented amounts of natural resources (particularly energy and water)[1]. This is why questions of cost and purpose are so important. If so many of us are encouraged to use such energy-intensive AI tools as systematically as possible to produce and circulate data to feed an economic system that is virtually freewheeling, we believe we are doomed to failure given the resources available. Unless we imagine a digital economy reserved for a smaller number of wealthy people when the rest will be living a much less comfortable lifestyle. Any resemblance with the current system would not be fortuitous, except that in the future the geopolitical and social balance of power will evolve and living conditions on earth will become increasingly threatening for a larger segment of humanity. 

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