人工智能对能源的苛刻要求​The Obscene Energy Demands of A.I.


The Obscene Energy Demands of A.I.


How can the world reach net zero if it keeps inventing new ways to consume energy?


By Elizabeth Kolbert 


March 9, 2024


It’s been estimated that ChatGPT is consuming more than half a million kilowatt-hours of electricity per day.Photograph by Mark Felix / AFP / Getty

据估计,ChatGPT 每天消耗的电力超过 50 万千瓦时。

In 2016, Alex de Vries read somewhere that a single bitcoin transaction consumes as much energy as the average American household uses in a day. At the time, de Vries, who is Dutch, was working at a consulting firm. In his spare time, he wrote a blog, called Digiconomist, about the risks of investing in cryptocurrency. He found the energy-use figure disturbing.

2016 年,亚历克斯-德-弗里斯(Alex de Vries)在某处看到,一笔比特币交易消耗的能源相当于美国普通家庭一天的耗电量。当时,荷兰人德弗里斯正在一家咨询公司工作。业余时间,他写了一篇名为Digiconomist 的博客,讲述投资加密货币的风险。他发现这个能耗数字令人不安。

“I was, like, O.K., that’s a massive amount, and why is no one talking about it?” he told me recently over Zoom. “I tried to look up some data, but I couldn’t really find anything.” De Vries, then twenty-seven, decided that he would have to come up with the information himself. He put together what he called the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, and posted it on Digiconomist. According to the index’s latest figures, bitcoin mining now consumes a hundred and forty-five billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, which is more than is used by the entire nation of the Netherlands, and producing that electricity results in eighty-one million tons of CO2, which is more than the annual emissions of a nation like Morocco. De Vries subsequently began to track the electronic waste produced by bitcoin mining—an iPhone’s worth for every transaction—and its water use—which is something like two trillion litres per year. (The water goes toward cooling the servers used in mining, and the e-waste is produced by servers that have become out of date.)

"我当时想,好吧,这是一个巨大的数字,为什么没有人谈论它呢?"他最近在 Zoom 上告诉我。"我试着查了一些资料,但什么也没找到。"当时 27 岁的德弗里斯决定,他必须自己找出相关信息。他编制了自己所谓的 "比特币能源消耗指数",并将其发布在 Digiconomist 上。根据该指数的最新数据,比特币挖矿每年消耗 1450 亿千瓦时的电力,这比荷兰全国的用电量还要多。0},这比摩洛哥这样一个国家的年排放量还要多。德弗里斯随后开始追踪比特币挖矿产生的电子垃圾--每一笔交易都会产生一部 iPhone 的价值--以及用水量--每年大约两万亿升。(水用于冷却挖矿所用的服务器,而电子垃圾则是由过时的服务器产生的)。

Last year, de Vries became concerned about another energy hog: A.I. “I saw that it has a similar capability, and also the potential to have a similar growth trajectory in the coming years, and I felt immediately prompted to make sure people are aware that this is also energy-intensive technology,” he explained. He added a new tab to his blog: “AI sustainability.” In a paper he published last fall, in Joule, a journal devoted to sustainable energy, de Vries, who now works for the Netherlands’ central bank, estimated that if Google were to integrate generative A.I. into every search, its electricity use would rise to something like twenty-nine billion kilowatt-hours per year. This is more than is consumed by many countries, including Kenya, Guatemala, and Croatia.


“There’s a fundamental mismatch between this technology and environmental sustainability,” de Vries said. Recently, the world’s most prominent A.I. cheerleader, Sam Altman, the C.E.O. of OpenAI, voiced similar concerns, albeit with a different spin. “I think we still don’t appreciate the energy needs of this technology,” Altman said at a public appearance in Davos. He didn’t see how these needs could be met, he went on, “without a breakthrough.” He added, “We need fusion or we need, like, radically cheaper solar plus storage, or something, at massive scale—like, a scale that no one is really planning for.”

"德弗里斯说:"这项技术与环境可持续性之间存在根本性的不匹配。最近,世界上最著名的人工智能啦啦队长、OpenAI 公司首席执行官萨姆-阿尔特曼(Sam Altman)也表达了类似的担忧,不过他的说法有所不同。"阿尔特曼在达沃斯的一次公开露面中说:"我认为,我们仍然没有意识到这项技术对能源的需求。他接着说,"如果没有突破性进展",他不知道如何满足这些需求。他补充说:"我们需要核聚变,或者我们需要像太阳能加储能那样的大规模、更便宜的能源。

Last week, the International Energy Agency announced that energy-related global CO2emissions rose, yet again, in 2023, to more than thirty-seven billion metric tons. The increase comes at a time when the whole world is supposedly striving to reach net-zero emissions, and it indicates that global efforts are, to put it mildly, falling short. Much of the increase in emissions came from China, and most of it was driven by century-old technologies, such as the internal-combustion engine. So data centers are, for now at least, a small part of the problem. Still, as the use of A.I. ramps up and bitcoin prices reach new heights, the question is: How can the world reach net zero if it keeps inventing new ways to consume energy? (In the U.S., data centers now account for about four per cent of electricity consumption, and that figure is expected to climb to six per cent by 2026.)

上周,国际能源机构宣布,与能源相关的全球二氧化碳 2 排放量在2023年再次上升,超过370亿公吨。据说全世界都在努力实现净零排放,而这一增长却表明,说得温和一点,全球的努力还远远不够。增加的排放量大部分来自中国,而且大部分是由内燃机等具有百年历史的技术造成的。因此,至少从目前来看,数据中心只是问题的一小部分。尽管如此,随着人工智能的应用和比特币价格的不断攀升,问题是:如果世界不断发明新的能源消耗方式,如何才能实现净零排放? 在美国,数据中心目前约占电力消耗的4%,预计到2026年这一数字将攀升至6%)。

Mining cryptocurrencies like bitcoin eats up electricity owing to the way the system was set up. To acquire bitcoin (and other currencies that rely on a similar scheme), miners compete to answer cryptographic riddles. Winning the competition takes a lot of computing power. As a result, server farms devoted to crypto mining tend to be situated in parts of the world where electricity is cheap. China used to lead the world in crypto mining, but it imposed a ban on the practice in 2021, and now the U.S. is No. 1. A few months ago, the U.S. Department of Energy tried to compel mining concerns to report their energy use, but in February a Texas judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the effort. (According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, crypto mining in the U.S. uses almost as much energy as all the nation’s home computers combined.) Meanwhile, the higher the price of bitcoin rises—it reached a record of sixty-nine thousand dollars on March 5th—the bigger the financial incentives for mining it, and the more energy consumed.

由于系统的设置方式,开采比特币等加密货币非常耗电。为了获得比特币(以及其他依赖于类似方案的货币),矿工们竞相回答加密谜题。赢得比赛需要大量的计算能力。因此,专门用于加密货币挖矿的服务器群往往位于世界上电力便宜的地方。中国曾是全球加密货币挖矿的领头羊,但中国在 2021 年禁止了这一行为,现在美国成为全球第一。几个月前,美国能源部曾试图迫使挖矿企业报告其能源使用情况,但德克萨斯州的一名法官在 2 月份发布了一项临时限制令,阻止了这一努力。(根据白宫科技政策办公室的数据,美国加密货币挖矿消耗的能源几乎相当于全国家用电脑耗能的总和)。与此同时,比特币价格越高(3 月 5 日达到创纪录的 6.9 万美元),挖矿的经济刺激就越大,消耗的能源也就越多。

Artificial intelligence requires a lot of power for much the same reason. The kind of machine learning that produced ChatGPT relies on models that process fantastic amounts of information, and every bit of processing takes energy. When ChatGPT spits out information (or writes someone’s high-school essay), that, too, requires a lot of processing. It’s been estimated that ChatGPT is responding to something like two hundred million requests per day, and, in so doing, is consuming more than half a million kilowatt-hours of electricity. (For comparison’s sake, the average U.S. household consumes twenty-nine kilowatt-hours a day.)

出于同样的原因,人工智能也需要大量的电力。产生ChatGPT 的机器学习依赖于处理大量信息的模型,而每一次处理都需要消耗能量。当ChatGPT 吐出信息(或写出某人的高中作文)时,也需要大量的处理。据估计,ChatGPT每天要响应大约 2 亿个请求,消耗的电力超过 50 万千瓦时。(为了便于比较,美国家庭平均每天消耗 29 千瓦时)。

A.I. could potentially be used to alleviate some of the problems it is exacerbating. For instance, it might be used to improve the efficiency of renewable-energy systems, which could reduce emissions from server farms. But it seems unlikely that such gains will keep up with A.I.’s growing electricity demands; this, presumably, is why Altman argues that a technological breakthrough is needed.


De Vries, for his part, is dismayed by what he sees as a lack of human learning in the face of so much machine learning. “I think the only thing that’s realistic in terms of policy, at least in the short to medium term, is disclosure requirements,” he said. “It’s taken a very long time before we got there with regard to cryptocurrencies, and I’m disappointed that we haven’t gotten there sooner with A.I. It’s like we saw what cryptocurrency mining could do, and we totally forgot about it.”♦


Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for “The Sixth Extinction.” Her latest book, “H Is for Hope,” will be published in March.

伊丽莎白-科尔伯特(Elizabeth Kolbert)自 1999 年以来一直在《纽约客》杂志担任撰稿人,曾以 "第六次物种灭绝"(The Sixth Extinction)获得2015 年普利策奖。她的新书《H Is for Hope》将于 3 月出版。