Policy Studies Technology and Innovation

Artificial Intelligence, Energy and the Economy


Wayne Brough
Policy Director, Technology and Innovation

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The release of ChatGPT on Nov. 30, 2022, sparked a global conversation about the future of computing. By January 2023, this large language model had 100 million users—a number that rose to 173 million by April 2023. Created and released by the company OpenAI, ChatGPT gave the broader public its first direct access to the computational power of artificial intelligence (AI) and its ability to provide human-like text generation with highly accurate contextual understanding.

These advances in AI and machine learning from ChatGPT and other AI models like Google’s Bard, Meta’s LLaMA and other open-source models could fundamentally alter the future of computing and improve our quality of life in countless ways, such as enhancing scientific learning, managing complex systems, and improving the productivity and output of virtually all sectors of the economy.

Despite these potential benefits, important ethical questions and societal concerns have been raised about some applications of AI, including possible misuse or malevolent use as well as privacy and cybersecurity risks. Critics also fear job losses, as many routine tasks could be automated with AI, although the overall potential impact of substituting AI-assisted capital for labor remains ambiguous because the use of these technologies and the resultant expanding marketplace is expected to generate new employment opportunities in new fields. These potential adverse consequences have caused many to call for regulation.

Additionally, transitioning to an AI economy raises concerns about energy consumption and environmental impacts, as the data centers that house the hardware and other resources required for AI technologies use a considerable amount of power. Estimates suggest that the centers consume 2 to 3 percent of U.S. and global power. Given this concern, AI energy consumption and its resultant carbon footprint require an appropriate policy response that broadly evaluates the holistic impacts of AI, considering both the direct power used by AI applications as well as their ability to improve energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions in key sectors of the economy.

In this paper, we explore these issues by briefly explaining the accelerated computing behind AI models and the key benefits the technology offers. We then discuss two of the bigger concerns surrounding AI and machine learning—energy consumption and regulation—and offer suggestions that policymakers can consider to ensure that the technologies are able to flourish safely and responsibly.

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