You'll Never Guess How AI Is Helping Google Reduce Its Environmental Footprint

When we talk about the environment, it’s important to remember the importance of a healthy ecosystem. Climate change is a real phenomenon, despite arguments to the contrary, and protecting our environment is vital for future generations.

Google has long understood how important the environment is to its users, and has made a commitment to lowering its environmental footprint. But until now, that commitment has been hard to keep. Google relies on energy-intensive data centers to hold the massive amounts of information that it gathers, and as global demand for its services increases, so does its need for data center storage. But thanks to artificial intelligence, Google has been able to break this cycle and cut its energy use, providing a cleaner, healthier future.

The Data Center Dilemma

To understand how artificial intelligence is helping Google and all of humanity, you first need to know the environmental dilemma that Google is facing. Storing and using digital data is one of the most energy-intensive activities of the modern world. According to a recent report by Greenpeace, digital devices, networks, and data centers together account for a staggering 12 percent of all the electricity used in the world. This is actually worse than it sounds because as recently as 2012, these sources only used 7 percent of global energy. So if this trend continues, our insatiable appetite for data will make it virtually impossible to combat climate change, ocean acidification, or any other environmental problem related to energy consumption.

As the largest search engine and one of the largest tech companies in the world, Google is both disproportionately responsible for this problem and uniquely aware of its consequences. The company operates massive data centers all over the globe, and must regularly expand them or build new ones to serve its growing user base. But because the company is present everywhere, it sees firsthand the toll that pollution and climate change are taking on humanity. The company is eager to put a stop to these problems and understands that this means it must look inward at its own practices.

Besides humanitarian concerns, there are practical reasons that Google wants to lower the energy consumption of its data centers. The company spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on energy. If it could find a more efficient way of storing and transferring data, its financial health would improve markedly. The search engine also recognizes that consumers place a premium on environmental sustainability, and would thus be more likely to use its services if it could credibly claim that it was using less energy. For the sake of both the planet and its bottom line, Google has been eager to find a more sustainable way of storing and transmitting data globally.

An AI Application

Google found its sustainable solution in one of the most unlikely places: DeepMind. Google bought this AI development firm back in 2014, for a price tag of more than USD $600 million. The search engine hoped to profit from the advanced AI applications that the company produced, which attracted attention for their ability to run UK hospitals efficiently and to beat human players at Go. But until recently, these efforts did little to improve Google’s bottom line. As advanced as DeepMind’s AI was, Google simply couldn’t find a way to make it profitable.

That situation may have just changed, thanks to a Google initiative to cut data center energy consumption. Using DeepMind, Google’s engineers created an application that could predict how hot a data center would become in a given span of time. The system then communicated with the cooling units that are used to stop the center from overheating, letting them know exactly how much energy they would need to cool it off sufficiently. As a result, the units didn’t use any more energy that was necessary to prevent overheating.

Thanks to this innovation, Google achieved a 40 percent reduction in the energy used for cooling. This translates to a 15 percent overall reduction in energy use at the data centers where this was applied. If Google begins using this technology at all of its data centers, it has the potential to save tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars a year on energy. That means less pollution in the air and water, less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and a more sustainable future for our planet.

A Glimpse of the Future

As successful as this initiative was, it’s only the beginning of what is possible with AI technology. Google and DeepMind can build similar applications to reduce energy use for other operations, as well as to find viable ways of getting that energy from renewable sources. Other companies can also begin to apply artificial intelligence for their energy saving and clean generation needs and rapidly achieve the same positive results. As AI technology becomes more advanced and more widely available, it will lead to swift improvements in sustainability around the globe.

Imaginea is at the forefront of this sustainable AI transition. The platform serves as an ecosystem for artificial intelligence technology, where companies and individuals all over the planet can exchange AI algorithms, data, and services. For more information on the future of AI, sustainability, and human life, contact Imaginea today.