Could artificial intelligence help combat the environmental impacts of big data?

Posted on 11th November 2019

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Written by David Cullinan, Author, The Irish Tech News.

It is estimated that the network of computers that maintain the Bitcoin blockchain collectively use more power than the entire country of Switzerland or the equivalent of 2.3 million cars annually.

There is no questioning that we as a species have entered a new age — the age of information, or big data. Human beings are creating and consuming more and more data on an annual basis. Data that is not only becoming increasingly valuable but increasingly more energy-intensive. This problem is being addressed to some degree by switching to renewable energy sources like wind and solar but to truly tackle the issue, consumption needs to be reduced through technological innovation.

Blockchain networks, in particular, have drawn criticism recently for their inefficient design and excessively high power consumption. It is estimated that the network of computers that maintain the Bitcoin blockchain collectively use more power than the entire country of Switzerland or the equivalent of 2.3 million cars annually. However, this is still minor compared to the overall amount of electricity used by the millions of computer chips that power the world’s datacentres.

Can AI technology improve energy efficiency?

A recent article from tech publication Technology Review highlights this issue and questions the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) adds to the mix. While datacentres are currently estimated to use only 2% of global electricity, some scientists believe this could reach as high as 10% in the next five years. The potential rise is attributed to a predicted increase in demand for power-hungry AI chips, but could these very same chips provide the solutions needed to improve energy efficiency?

The massive amounts of data required for AI-enhanced activities like machine-learning are reportedly doubling energy requirements every 3.5 months, adding to the already critical climate crisis. In a study from the University of Massachusetts, researchers found that certain AI models produce “nearly five times the entire lifetime emissions of the average American car.” Sundeep Bajikar, head of corporate strategy at the semiconductor supplier Applied Materials, says the industry needs urgent innovation if it hopes to address these issues before it’s too late.

Alex Alexandrov, CEO of crypto payments platform Coinpayments, recently launched a new AI-enhanced blockchain network that uses artificial ‘intuition’ to organically control energy usage. The VELAS blockchain is maintained by a ‘swarm’ of artificial intuitions that are designed to naturally modify network conditions to ensure optimal operational efficiency.

“Here at Velas, our purpose is to address and fix existing issues and challenges faced by most existing Blockchains,” says Alexandrov. “This is done by using neural networks optimized by artificial intelligence to enhance its consensus algorithm.”

The technology is specifically designed to address performance issues within blockchain networks but if successful, could be adapted and integrated into a range of data-intensive systems. “The crypto space has changed the game in a lot of ways, but it still has a number of problems. AI is the answer to many of these existing issues,” says Alexandrov.

Improvements in semiconductor efficiency

Combining AI-enhancements with improved semiconductor efficiency could not only slow the increase in power consumption but potentially reduce it over time. Companies like Luminous Computing and Lightelligence are working on improving semiconductor efficiency using photonic technology — a method of data transfer that utilizes laser beams known as ‘waveguides’.

While the technology is still in its infancy, the machine-learning nature of AI could help to rapidly accelerate advancements. Google has already proved the benefits of the technology by using AI to reduce the cost of cooling at its datacentres by 40%. Scientists are now hopeful that these developments and others like them can help to reverse the effects of climate change before it’s too late.

Originally posted here

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