The carbon credit markets have become key to the race to net zero. edg3D/Getty Images
- The internet contributes 1.6 billion annual tons in greenhouse gas emissions.
- Now, Google and Microsoft want to add AI to their search engines
- This would add to global carbon emissions, experts told Wired.
Ever since the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI paved the way for a future where AI powers search engine results, an all-out race has ensued between Bing and Google to implement the technology.
Google and Microsoft are looking to improve search engine results with large language models they say will distill “complex” information while responding in a human-like fashion to queries. Microsoft will implement ChatGPT in its existing search engine Bing, while Google announced the launch of an “experimental conversational AI service” named Bard.
Behind the scenes, however, is an already resource-intense operation of maintaining computer systems to help with search engines that could get more resource-heavy.
The power used to train a single artificial intelligence can emit hundreds of thousands of pounds in carbon emissions while internet use makes up nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The computing power necessary to merge AI with the load of search engine queries could increase the amount of computing power necessary from companies like Google and Microsoft by up to 5 times, experts told Wired. And with the increase in computers, greenhouse gas emissions will rise.
“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.”
The new search engines will also require more data centers to store data. Martin Bouchard, founder of data center company QScale, told Wired that AI would result in “at least four or five times more computing per search.”
In a statement to Insider, Jane Park, a spokesperson for Google, said the company would initially be launching a “lighter” version of Bard that would require less computing power.
“We have also published research detailing the energy costs of state-of-the-art language models, including an earlier and larger, version of LaMDA,” Park said in a statement. “Our findings show that combining efficient models, processors, and data centers with clean energy sources can reduce the carbon footprint of a ML system by as much as 1000X.”
Environmental issues aren’t the only criticisms ChatGPT and Google’s AI have received in the past. Google’s rollout for Bard garnered criticism from employees who say the product is “rushed and botched” according to a report from CNBC.
Insider senior tech correspondent Adam Rogers wrote about how AI-produced search engine responses could produce answers with misinformation or faulty logic that can be harder to detect by searchers.
“They’ll elide the sources they’re drawing on, and the biases built into their databases, behind the trappings of acceptable, almost-but-not-quite-human-sounding prose,” Rogers wrote. “However wrong they are, they’ll sound right.”
Open AI and Microsoft did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.