One of the nastier things about the “weightless” delusion for the web, apps, software, Ai is that it doesn’t even consider the physical devices that have to be manufactured to “render” the bits and bytes. A great example of this is found in British economics journalist Paul Mason’s book Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. Mason, along with others, seems to think that costs of knowledge production will go to zero, ushering in a golden age of (virtual?) “plenty”.
What nonsense. Digital media consumes both energy and physical resources. The current Internet consumes a few percent of the world’s electrical supply. But the next generation is assumed to be technologies that by their nature seem to want more, rather than less:
Clouds, and Ais – the computing power for the exciting applications of Ai – like scanning faces to match with behavior – require huge clusters of computing, demanding lots of “always on” power
Internet of Things – this is even battier. To work, IoT will ultimately create hundreds of billions, even trillions of devices. Individually, these things may use a trickle or energy, but it will add up. More importantly, they are hardware – huge amounts of it – scattered everywhere and requiring regular replacement. The costs of IoT hardware are typically ignored, both initial manufacture and recycling.
The result is that as the world tries to ‘power down’ for energy efficiency, energy and resource use for the cloud, Ai, Blockchain (amazing computing energy already wasted here), and IoT hardware, software and networks will rise, both in an absolute and relative sense.
The take-home: “technology” can have some effect on efficiency, but in general “more tech” = more power used. Technology doesn’t change physics.