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Navigating AI's Environmental Footprint: A Step Forward with New Legislation
Positions
2 Feb 2024

Navigating AI's Environmental Footprint: A Step Forward with New Legislation

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements, artificial intelligence (AI) emerges as a double-edged sword, possessing the capability to both address and exacerbate environmental challenges. The introduction of the Artificial Intelligence Environmental Impacts Act of 2024 by Senator Edward J. Markey, along with Senator Martin Heinrich, Representative Anna Eshoo, and Representative Don Beyer, marks a pivotal step towards understanding and mitigating the environmental repercussions of AI. This legislation proposes a comprehensive framework for assessing AI's ecological footprint, highlighting the urgent need for a balanced approach in the development and deployment of AI technologies.

At the heart of this legislation is the directive for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to establish standards for measuring AI's environmental impact and create a voluntary reporting framework for AI developers. This initiative acknowledges the dual nature of AI's influence on the environment. On one side, AI has the potential to catalyze environmental preservation efforts, such as enhancing clean energy innovation, refining weather prediction models, and optimizing cooling efficiencies. Conversely, the escalating deployment of AI technologies is linked to significant environmental concerns, including the potential doubling of data center electricity demand by 2026, water usage for cooling purposes, and an increase in electronic waste due to the demand for AI chips.

Senator Markey eloquently captures the essence of this duality, stating, “There is a Dickensian quality to the use of AI when it comes to our environment: It can make our planet better, and it can make our planet worse.” He further emphasizes the legislation's goal to ensure that the evolution of AI technologies does not come at the expense of our planet's health. This initiative reflects a collective effort to guide AI's development towards a future that harmonizes technological progress with environmental stewardship.

“This initiative crucially creates visibility for the environmental costs of artificial intelligence, encompassing not just the models but their usage as well. We particularly endorse the holistic approach taken, going beyond mere energy consumption to consider all environmental impacts across the AI supply chain. This is vital for developing sustainable and responsible AI practices globally.”

Max Schulze, Director of the Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance

The endorsement of this bill by a diverse array of organizations, including Hugging Face, Data and Society, and the Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance, underscores the widespread recognition of the need to address AI's environmental implications. By mandating a comprehensive study on AI's environmental impact and establishing a consortium to identify measurement standards, the legislation paves the way for a more transparent and accountable AI development landscape.

Moreover, the proposed voluntary reporting system and the directive for a report to Congress within four years signify a commitment to continuous assessment and adaptation of AI's environmental governance. This forward-looking approach ensures that as AI technologies evolve, so too will our understanding and management of their environmental impacts.

Read the proposed bill

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