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  • Marijan Hassan - Tech Journalist

Bill Gates defends AI, says efficiency gains outweigh high energy consumption

Bill Gates is calling for calm amidst concerns about the environmental impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In a recent speech in London, Gates argued that while AI systems do require significant energy to run, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Data centers, the backbone of AI development, are acknowledged to be energy-intensive. Gates estimates their energy consumption to grow by 2-6% globally. However, he emphasizes that AI itself can be a powerful tool for combating climate change.

"Let's not go overboard on this," he said. "Datacenters are, in the most extreme case, a 6 percent addition [to the energy load] but probably only 2 to 2.5 percent. The question is, will AI accelerate a more than 6 percent reduction? And the answer is: certainly," Gates said.

He believes AI can optimize energy grids, improve building efficiency, and even develop new clean energy solutions.

Gates, a prominent investor in clean energy technologies through his Breakthrough Energy venture fund, has a vested interest in this optimistic view.

However, his claims haven't gone unchallenged. Some experts point out that the rapid growth of AI could push energy consumption beyond his projections. Additionally, Microsoft itself recently admitted to a nearly 33% rise in greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to data center expansion.

A recent study by Goldman Sachs and the Electric Power Research Institute predicts data centers could gobble up to 9% of all US electricity by 2030. This concern was echoed by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which predicts a potential doubling of global data center electricity demand by 2026. IEA singled out Ireland where it noted uncurbed data center growth could see them consume a staggering 32% of the nation's total electricity by 2026.

However, some believe these figures may be inflated. Arm CEO Rene Haas, likely promoting his company's solutions, estimates a higher range of 20-25% for the US by 2030.

Despite these concerns, Gates' perspective highlights a crucial point: AI is a double-edged sword when it comes to energy. While it consumes power, it also holds immense potential for efficiency gains.

The key lies in the responsible development and deployment of the technology. Focusing on energy-efficient algorithms and hardware design can minimize the environmental footprint.


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