See how artificial intelligence interacts with our efforts to address climate change.
I remember 2022 as a breakthrough moment for artificial intelligence (AI). I tend to be cold-blooded and very concerned about how society will respond to the rapid changes unleashed by advances in AI. So I reacted to this year-long public reveal of his AI product with a mixture of fascination and concern.
As a climatologist, it’s natural to wonder how these forces interact with climate change. Will AI help humanity reduce emissions and adapt to climate change? Or will it only make things worse? I’ve come to believe that the right answer depends on whether we see the real challenge in tackling climate change as a technical problem or a power struggle. .
Image generated by DALL-E
(Prompt: “Robot scientist working with humans to save the environment.”)
AI tools are amazing
You must have already experienced the “AI Moment” to consider this column worth reading. If you haven’t spent hours pondering the avocado chair, staring in awe at the GPT-3 demo, or trying to climb above,Write a Bible verse in the style of the King James Bible that explains how to remove a peanut butter sandwich from your VCR.,” Then stop reading. Do those things for a while. Then take a long walk, think about humanity, and hug your loved ones.
The first prompt I sent to ChatGPT was, “Write a column in the style of Severin Bollenstein.” (I think this is a generic entry.) Three seconds later, there were seven passable paragraphs in favor of electric vehicle adoption, but range anxiety, charging infrastructure, and upstream from coal and natural gas mentioned the pollution-related challenges associated with the generation of electricity. It was too milquetoast to actually be written by Severin, but it was an epiphany. I could immediately see both how this tool would do me better in some parts of the job, and how a modestly improved version could replace me. rice field.
Default view is techno-optimism
I’ve come to think of AI’s impact on the climate in three layers. The third, furthest layer is the one that is difficult to think long-term. Either robots will take over the earth, or robots will solve all the problems and leave it in utopia. Climate change impacts make for fun conversations over drinks, but for the EI blog it’s too speculative, even for me.
The first, closest layer is what you find when you Google phrases like “AI and climate change” or “Will AI help or harm the climate?” Most often, we get back consulting reports and mission statements from socially conscious start-ups claiming different ways advances in data analytics can help mitigation and adaptation efforts. Highlights include smarter grids, improved transport networks, highly accurate disaster forecasting, and ways to generate better data on emissions, mitigation, forests and vulnerable populations.
The text for this slide was generated from ChatGPT (prompt: ‘Bullet points on synergies between AI and climate mitigation and adaptation, in style referring to a PowerPoint deck’). Image is from DALL-E (Prompt: ‘Synergy symbol, consulting presentation style’). This placement is due to PowerPoint’s automatic design feature.
Much of this is plausible, and improved data analysis would certainly help.
Some observations about the middle layer
The middle tier in my taxonomy is how vastly improved AI will change productivity, the economy, and society over the next 5 to 15 years or so. The point here is that AI is a new fundamental tool that promises to make some workers more productive and creative, displace many others, and change the concentration of wealth and power. am. I predict big changes are coming, but at a faster rate than most people realize.
What effect does all this have on the climate?
First, AI has the potential to accelerate economic growth. Many believe that growth will undermine the progress of climate change, and some hold to the view that degrowth is necessary. There is a clear logic to this view. However, radical decarbonization requires significant structural and social change, and change is easier to achieve when the economic pie is expanding.
Second, the rise of AI could drive climate change innovation. Many studies in economics suggest that innovation is slowing, but advances in AI could reverse that trend. And more innovation is needed to address climate, not only in science and technology, but also in policy and economics, marketing and communication.
At the same time, the innovation potential of AI is not limited to green technologies. This could be used to lower the cost of fossil fuel production and other emissions-producing industries. Economists use the term “directed innovation” to denote when society, through policy or other forces, directs research and development in one direction or another. The key question is whether we, as a society, are prioritizing tackling climate change and moving towards balanced innovation that is climate positive. I am generally optimistic.
But it’s the third factor that makes me pessimistic: how AI tools will cause social division. A rapidly developing array of AI tools will disrupt many new industries and displace millions of workers. Many of them now enjoy comfortable white-collar desk jobs. This may ultimately prove to be a form of creative destruction leading to a better future, but meanwhile widening income inequality and creating new concentrations of power and wealth. It seems most likely to generate and sow the seeds of social division.The progress of climate change will require an unprecedented level of global cooperation, so pursuing it in a world of less social disruption seems most likely. is the best.
The fourth, and perhaps most important, way AI will affect climate is by exacerbating climate politics. In the words of Ezra Klein, AI tools like ChatGPT “make the cost of disinformation zero.” Vested interests, from oil companies to old oil companies, who want to disrupt the policies and social cohesion needed to accelerate the transition to clean energy, have powerful new tools. Tools like ChatGPT have nothing to do with truth. They are trained in predictions and associations, and can convince people of falsehoods as easily as they can reveal the truth to them.
Image generated by DALL-E
(Prompt: “Banksy-style robot with scales of justice and earth on it”)
This month, the Ohio legislature passed a resolution officially labeling natural gas a “green” fuel, and the Wyoming legislature introduced a bill banning electric vehicles. In such a world, it is hard to imagine super-powerful disinformation applied asymmetrically to become a powerful tool for persistent benefits that overwhelm beneficial effects such as precision agriculture and improved grid analysis. it’s simple.
Ultimately, the main problem in dealing with climate change is the need for more technological solutions and better, lower-cost ways to implement the technologies we have. , the optimistic case of AI helping the climate makes sense. On the other hand, if we view the climate change struggle as a bitter partisan battle, we may take a different, darker view.
I’m a hall of fame worrier. Check three times that the door is locked when you leave the room, and pester your traveling loved ones to text you when you arrive at your destination. We worry about earthquakes and floods, social divisions and inequalities, and the impact of social media and screen pollution. I’m curious about the current situation. I’m curious about the change. And I really worry a lot about AI.
At the same time, I can’t help but be fascinated by new AI tools. They are fun and clearly inspire creativity. As such, I find myself leaning towards optimism about what they can do for the climate and for humanity more generally. To determine what it should feel like, I went to the source:
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Suggested citation: Sallee, James, “Can ChatGPT save the planet?”, Energy Institute Blog, University of California, Berkeley, 23 January 2023, https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2023/01/23/can-chatgpt-save-the-planet/