Google and Microsoft’s AI search war will make it worse.

greenhouse gas emissions
greenhouse gas emissions
  • The internet contributes 1.6 billion annual tons in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Now, Google and Microsoft want to add AI to their search engines
  • This would add to global carbon emissions, experts told Wired.

Ever since the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI paved the way for a future where AI powers search engine results, an all-out race has ensued between Bing and Google to implement the technology.

Google and Microsoft are looking to improve search engine results with large language models they say will distill « complex » information while responding in a human-like fashion to queries. Microsoft will implement ChatGPT in its existing search engine Bing, while Google announced the launch of an « experimental conversational AI service » named Bard.

Behind the scenes, however, is an already resource-intense operation of maintaining computer systems to help with search engines that could get more resource-heavy.

The power used to train a single artificial intelligence can emit hundreds of thousands of pounds in carbon emissions while internet use makes up nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The computing power necessary to merge AI with the load of search engine queries could increase the amount of computing power necessary from companies like Google and Microsoft by up to 5 times, experts told Wired. And with the increase in computers, greenhouse gas emissions will rise.

« It requires processing power as well as storage and efficient search, » Alan Woodward, professor of cybersecurity at the University of Surrey, told Wired. « Every time we see a step change in online processing, we see significant increases in the power and cooling resources required by large processing centers. I think this could be such a step. »