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AI could help or harm the environment depending on how it’s used, Piccard says

Bertrand Piccard
Bertrand Piccard Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Pascale Davies
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While AI could help us be more efficient, one negative is that it consumes a lot of energy, a renowned environmentalist told Euronews Next.


Artificial intelligence (AI) may be a double-edged sword when it comes to saving the planet, the Swiss explorer and environmentalist Bertrand Piccard told Euronews Next.

“AI is the most fantastic invention to have a greener, cleaner, more efficient, more profitable world. The problem is that to use AI, you need a lot of natural resources,” Piccard, who was the first to complete a non-stop balloon flight around the globe with Brian Jones, said at the VivaTech fair in Paris.

AI, including generative AI, which encompasses chatbots such as ChatGPT, requires a massive amount of computing power and natural resources. It requires data centres that consume a lot of energy.

For some areas of AI, there's "a perverse side because then you will have a negative benefit of AI. The good you do will be slower than the evil you do, and this has to be understood by people,” Piccard said.

Pointing to autonomous driving as an example, he said you need a lot of data, which consumes “roughly 100 times” more energy than using a non-autonomous car.

As technology companies, mainly OpenAI and Google, race to bring out the latest AI models, Piccard said regulation is crucial.

“In nature, there is the rule of the strongest…and then to get civilised, you start to have wisdom for some people. But it's not enough because you don't have enough wise people. So you need regulation,” he said.

“You need people who put the limits [on AI], and today, I don't see who can [do so] other than governments,” he added, hailing the EU for its AI Act.

But Piccard does not think the solution is just down to regulators. The Solar Impulse Foundation, which he launched in 2003, aims to find ecological solutions that can also turn a profit for businesses.

In 2020, he set a goal for the organisation to find 1,000 solutions to the world’s ecological problems. They have now found 1,600.

One of them includes having more green AI by using the heat from data centres to heat a suburb, city or industry next to the data centre, rather than letting it just cool down.

The other mission is to use AI for green, which means using AI to be more efficient and sustainable.

'AI could help us be more efficient'

Asked about the use of AI he is most excited about, Piccard answered using a smartphone for automated translation.

“You can speak to people you could have never spoken with before, that's a fantastic thing. It's not [good] for the environment, but it is for quality of life”.

But that is not the only use of AI he is excited about.

“What I also really love about AI is all the ways it can [help us] be more efficient to manage the world’s supply chains, consumption, and production to save resources instead of wasting resources,” Piccard said.

“Because we are in a world of waste today. And this is really the problem. So if I can help us to have an efficient world, I [would] go for it”.

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