Is Generative AI Worth Its Environmental Footprint? | by Kasper Groes Albin Ludvigsen | Oct, 2023

Generative AI might have a noticeable environmental footprint, and this story discusses what we may stand to gain in return.

Photo by Eric Krull on Unsplash

Generative AI is receiving a lot of attention these days. ChatGPT reportedly has hundreds of millions of users and similar functionality is allegedly being built into a multitude of digital products ranging from Microsoft Word and Teams to search engines.

The environmental footprint of generative AI could be noticeable if billions of people begin to use generative AI extensively on a daily basis [1].

But will the value we accrue from this technology outweigh the potential environmental costs?

That’s the question I will try to shed some light on in this article by outlining some perspectives on what we may stand to gain.

First, I’ll provide some perspectives on potential productivity gains from generative AI.

Then, I’ll discuss whether generative AI will be a net positive or a net negative technology.

Next, I’ll discuss the extent to which generative AI may reduce inequality.

Finally, I’ll provide my perspective on whether we should expect generative AI to speed up the green transition.


Please note that what follows concerns only generative AI. Generative AI is distinct from other types of AI.

Also note that I focus solely on generative AI that generates text (including code) and discard image and sound generation technology.

For a simple working definition of generative AI, see [2].

Let’s consider the extent to which generative AI could lead to productivity gains. One study of the effect of ChatGPT on productivity in various writing and analysis tasks found that…

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