Thursday, February 22

In search of the sustainable design of technology


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As Hasso Plattner, founder of SAP, says, sustainability starts at the design stage. With the exponentiality that we are experiencing in technology, with multiple innovations accelerating their development and expansion, and with the combination that is taking place between them, further increasing said exponential growth, the application of a careful design is being left aside in many cases. , to find a clear WHY that justifies the use case. It is ignoring having in mind from the beginning some solid pillars of sustainability that adapt development to a medium-term future and not to a short-term future.

And it is that technology, despite its incredible applications and how much it does for us, is still a means within our reach to achieve a greater goal. It is vitally important to clearly identify the use cases in which to apply it, that it is not only technically feasible to do something, but also that it is viable and sustainable, taking into account not only socioeconomic aspects, but also environmental ones.

We usually talk about the benefits of technology, about what makes our lives easier or about the incredible things it can do. But, on many occasions, we do not stop to think or we do not know what its use costs or what hidden impacts it has.

Blockchain Impact

Blockchain, which emerged in 2008 from the hand of Satoshi Nakamoto and Bitcoin, has some clear benefits, since it brings transparency to transactions of all kinds, eliminates intermediaries by being based on an immutable and traceable chain of trust, which means better efficiency processes and provides security, due to the way the blocks are built and the encryption used.

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Technology, despite its incredible applications and how much it does for us, is still a means within our reach to achieve a greater goal.

Despite potentially having multiple uses, such as NFTs (Non Fungible Token) or the traceability of raw materials, it is a technology closely linked to cryptocurrencies. In short, bitcoin mining is based on solving complex mathematical problems (PoW). In its beginnings, these “riddles” could be solved with conventional computers, but as the system grows, it makes them more complex, requiring more computing power and, therefore, more energy consumption.

It is estimated that each bitcoin transaction uses around 2,100 kWh, which is equivalent to the consumption of a North American household for 75 days. Bitcoin’s annual carbon footprint is comparable to the release of 97.2 megatons of CO2, roughly the annual emissions of Argentina, according to a Cambridge University study.

Metaverse Impact

Another interesting and very topical case is the metaverse. As we discussed, it essentially involves the convergence of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and digital worlds.

Of course, the metaverse as a concept promises a reduction in the number of trips and trips, mainly in the business environment, by allowing in the not too distant future to recreate the physical world with a high degree of realism. This will undoubtedly contribute from an environmental point of view to reducing emissions of C02 and other polluting gases into the atmosphere. In addition, it will reduce the number of traffic accidents and allow people to optimize their time and, therefore, can also contribute to improving work-life balance, as teleworking already does to a great extent.

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However, this technology also worries experts. The metaverse relies heavily on technologies like virtual reality (VR) and the cloud. In addition, it makes use of artificial vision models to detect the movement of the eyes and hands, in order to make the experience more real and immersive and capture all the user’s actions, being able to act accordingly.

According to the British consultancy ECS, training one of these artificial vision models can generate about 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, which is more than five times what a vehicle emits throughout its useful life, according to what emerges. from research conducted by the University of Massachusetts.

It will be key for the data centers that provide cloud services to be powered exclusively by renewable energy, a strategy that technology giants such as Google, Amazon or Facebook itself have already implemented.

Impact of Artificial Intelligence

The benefits of Artificial Intelligence are multiple and undoubted. It is a ubiquitous technology, with application in all professional and personal fields and that will give rise to exponential advances in health, energy and, without a doubt, in climate change, among many other sectors.

But Artificial Intelligence also has a not so positive impact and that must also be alleviated from the design.

Let’s see, for example, the impact of GAN networks (Generative Adversarial Network). These systems require a lot of computing power, both to train them and to run them. This is the case of DALL-E, generated by OpenAI. This system allows you to generate an image from a text message. It is based on a simplified version of GPT-3. This consumed 1,287 MW and produced 552 tons of CO2 just during training, which is equivalent to the average consumption of 100 homes for a year.

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Another case is that of StyleGAN3, from Nvidia. This system allows to generate portraits of people who do not exist in reality. Their training also consumes a large amount of energy (225 MW), equivalent to 10,000 North American homes.

conclusion

In conclusion, it is key to know what it is and the real benefits of technology, as well as to identify use cases with a clear return, not only economic but also social. In addition, carrying out a good design, supported by the pillars of sustainability, with an extension of the useful life of the products and a massive use of renewable energies, will mean a sustainable and beneficial development for all. Achieving that symbiosis between technology and environment will be key.

By Iván Cabezas, Digital & Innovation Advisor, ESGeo Spain of Techedge Group

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