Not adding up

In fact, it is adding up. Way too up:

Google has reported that, since 2019, its emissions have grown by 48 percent, an enormous increase that reflects the vast amounts of energy used by artificial intelligence.

A.I. models run a huge number of calculations in short order, taxing computers and driving up energy consumption. “As we further integrate AI into our products, reducing emissions may be challenging due to increasing energy demands,” Google said in its report, released Tuesday. The surge in emissions puts the tech giant further away from its ambitious goal of zeroing out carbon footprint by 2030.

Google is not alone. Microsoft, which is also integrating A.I. into its products, has seen its emissions jump by 30 percent since 2020. It too has a goal of reaching net zero emissions by the end of this decade.

In its report, Google said that it is adopting practices that could dramatically reduce the energy needed to train an A.I. model. It also said that it is using A.I. to tackle climate change in three key ways: by guiding drivers along more fuel-efficient routes; by helping city engineers adjust the timing of stoplights to speed the flow of traffic; and by providing advanced flood warnings to people in more than 80 countries.

Still, the climate impact of A.I. is considerable. Google and Microsoft now have larger carbon footprints than Slovenia.

The marketing hype around A.I. that is far outstripping its current utility also perfectly elides its most profound impact: the electricity required for supercomputing. This gluttonous energy need is hard to overstate – making it very difficult to comprehend – and should be among the primary concerns about A.I., on par with its nefarious effects on news/entertainment, creative pursuits, and surveillance.

So, Siri, is A.I. scary, or just frighteningly impractical?

Considering the odds

Weird convergence on how we distinguish work vs. labor that slices into entirely new territory when merged with sports gambling:

There is a way to make money, or at least not lose money, gambling on sports, and people who do it. That work involves crunching numbers, diversifying risk, seeking out small inefficiencies; it is, more or less, a job. A friend I spoke to for the story made a bunch of money betting the under on steals for various defense-deficient NBA guards. It’s not glamorous, it’s not juicy, it provides no mondo paydays. It’s barely fun at all. Again: it’s work.

Sports gambling apps do not want people to gamble like that. What they want bettors to do is put money on parlays. Apps push them in that direction constantly, even offering “no-risk parlays” to whet a prospective gambler’s appetite for the harder stuff. When I mentioned slot machine gambling to Dr. Fong, he immediately mentioned the same-game parlay. It’s an inevitable winner for casinos that also looks and feels good for the casual gambler.

In Addiction by Design, Schüll talks to slot machine designers about the process of making an effective slot machine. (They’re all from Australia, for some reason.) They tell her that it’s mostly a matter of feeling—finding a way to build in enough winning to maintain hope in the player, but also enough losing to make it profitable for the casino. It’s pretty nauseating; reading about otherwise sane people succumbing to sophisticated Skinner Boxes is dispiriting, and terrifying.

Here is one way that could all look: You watch a game with the app open. It gives you a personalized stream of quick, ever-changing, algorithmically generated bets. It also tracks what you will bet on and what you won’t, and then adjusts to create something akin to a personalized slot machine; the idea is to create an experience that feels good to you. If you are even a little bit inclined toward problem gambling, this will bury itself deep, and it will take your money; it will all be, as it currently is in 30 states, legal. And you can play like this until the government or a medical professional intervenes, or doesn’t. Everyone with any skin in the game—every business interest that sees its fans as a renewable resource—wants that to exist.

Turnip-truck green mixed with $$$-green produces no great good but a whole lot of parting.

Recipes for frittering

This very poignantly familiar article on How to get Americans to care about a War includes most all the essentials that pour drama, apathy, and avoidance into a toxic stew of catastrophe and suffering around the world.

The dangers issuing from obtuse and deliberate lack of awareness resonate with a study published in the journal Nature this week. The research frames the economic damage that will come from climate change, a projections-based picture of missed opportunities of the world we might have been living in 2050, had different choices been made – in voting booths and boardrooms, primarily.

We can play the blame game of ‘who started what,’ and maybe we should to [better] inform future results. But that fact certain people around the world of whom Americans are definitely some can continue to play games and distract ourselves from wars and global warming is all of a part. The distraction game itself is seen as a growth industry in many quarters, and so of course it is. In the face of getting serious about consumer choices and investment portfolios as incentives or tradeoffs to be considered in the calculations to do anything about massive abstractions like ocean temperatures [not abstract at all, -ed] future choices and prosperity are frittered away.

Getting people to care about things that matter as just another version of vying for your attention is a triumph of marketing and failure of education. It is no indictment of childhood to tell people to grow up. It’s even in the one book they use to ban other books.

Also: put the damn books back. It’s embarrassing. What are we, chil–?

 

Apropos-eclipse

Making up things to fight, an interesting use of creative energy – if round is what you like. As we go in circles, we should at least tend the energy fires that are burning behind this particular chase.

God love the MBAs ( someone needs to), but every endeavor is not in need of being maximized for profit. Without the need to be philosophically opposed to financial gain, a re-alignment is in order, especially while we still know those words. Maybe a list of activities deserving special dispensation above net yield is in order – or maybe a reconsideration of ‘net’ and ‘yield’. Proposed exemptions:

Fire protection, water, public safety, health care.

But if we blaspheme bracket these, the human and physical infrastructure underlying them quickly follows: transportation, education, housing, food… the entire edifice of maximizing gains begins to crumble as soon as we grant agency to locking down any of its particular aspects. But we should still consider this! Again, while we can. That sounds like a scare tactic but the degree to which we have internalized the corporate ethos of business should terrify us – and does when/if we step back from it.

And again, it need not be the full socialismso, just set some standards and stick to them.

And if we need to do away with the internet because it’s not profitable, that’s fine. Things were okay before, and in terms of ‘net effect’ it’s really not helping.

Just something to consider when the light goes dim for a few minutes on Monday.

The Long Slow before the Quickening

Before it takes shape, as it gradually gains hold, the transition to consuming less – basically, what sustainable neutrality reverse is all about, no matter how specifically construed – is happening painfully too slowly. That ‘pace,’ if that’s the right word, explains part of the associated pain that feels all around, as though it were the the only thing accompanying the shift.

News media – ‘legacy’ is a very generous modifier at this point – have little at their disposal beyond the language of cost, suffering, loss, giving up, change in the context of deprivation. We can say this is the wrong framing, but acknowledging the limitation is important, especially if we are going to progress beyond it.

No magic button here, but a recognition of a kind of system-wide failure, of education, articulation, creativity. But that limit is shading another, broader system-wide failure unfolding right in front of us so slowly, slowly as it can and gradually as a massive system/combination of overlapping massive systems does, that it can seem invisible, not believable, deniable.

Maybe it has slipped the bounds of deniability, as several big things begin to occur at once and more quickly. The need to reckon with the slowness and the quickening, while not seeming to be our major challenge, is the key to unlocking all the other challenges. The cognitive dissonance of a world on fire/drowning will lead to despair absent the ability to think our way out of it.

In some quarters, that is indeed a dark thought. But that’s what we’ve got to do. As I’ve written here and elsewhere over the years, the Earth is still a kind of lady in waiting, with waning patience for us to get our act(s) together. She’s going to start touching herself soon and we’re still not close to ready to think about that.

What intelligence?

How we have prioritized as’ artificial’ as ‘improved’ or superior hearkens back to nothing so much as the advent of sugar substitutes. As we have come to understand artificial sweeteners, so should we think about, as in consider, so-called A.I. The emphasis on artificial has us reeling but in its best light it seems inadvertent – innocently derived from ‘simulated’ – and, whatever the case may be, is not new:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find – this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify – that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

You always want it to be more difficult to find an example from Orwell than it actually is.

When business meets a better business idea: Think about it

I’m familiar with Slutty Vegan and while not quite a fan – all the yelling, not sure I get that – the concept is solid and the burgers are good. And whatever one may think about the sustainability of meat and particularly the way we ‘farm’ chickens at this point, ‘They pull their little beaks off’ is actually a thing, no matter how you may or may not feel about it. And of course, the practice has far worse ethical issues.

SV founder and CEO Aisha “Pinky” Cole elaborates on her plan to exploit this fact to continue building her business (paywalled):

When you get an order of chicken wings, how many chickens is that? Two and a half? Two? What? And how old are they? Are these babies? Are they middle-aged? Are they wealthy? Are they poor? I wanna know: Where are these chickens coming from? And how are y’all able to produce so much, so fast?

I stopped eating meat altogether in 2007. I got food poisoning after I went to a restaurant. I had a chicken sandwich, and I got super sick. I was like, “That’s it. I’m not eating no more meat.” A little shy of 10 years ago, I went cold turkey and never turned back. When I went vegan, I had a restaurant that sold meat. I was selling oxtails and jerk chicken. But I wasn’t in alignment because I didn’t eat it. So why was I selling it?

Veganism is closely associated to climate change and how it’s important to save the animals and make sure that you’re doing the right things so that animals can sustain. I started really researching those things and I’m like, “Oh, I have to use my voice a little bit differently.”

Fake burgers as lifestyle brand, y’all.

Do try to keep up.

More on SV here.

Image: Not a burger (Beef Wellington, actually), but I bet she’s working on it. via wiki commons

Logically circular

So… climate change is resulting in more and more severe storms of all kinds, and now (soon) one of the drivers of our gloriously enhanced CO2 budget will be able to power your home when the power gets knocked out because of those more severe storms:

Believe it or not, this battery-powered truck can really power your house when the lights go out, and better still, doing so won’t require a rat’s nest of extension cords or even a portable generator. What Ford calls Intelligent Backup Power enables this all-electric rig to feed power from its enormous battery pack through its hardwired wall charger directly into your home’s electrical system.

As you might suspect, electric cars store positively enormous amounts of energy in their batteries. After all, it takes a lot of juice to move a multi-ton vehicle at interstate speeds for hundreds of miles. When it goes on sale next year, the new Lightning will offer two battery pack sizes, the smaller of which should provide 230 miles of range and the bigger one about 300. Ford hasn’t said how large these electron reservoirs are, but we’re estimating they’ll clock in at roughly 110 and 150 kWh, respectively.

The F-150 Lightning can provide up to 9.6 kW of power output. According to Ford, that’s more than enough to fully power a house at any one time, and considering the size of the battery, it could do that for at least three days (based on a daily average of 30 kWh). The automaker says you can make that power last for up to 10 days if you ration the electricity accordingly. Kind of like hypermiling for your home.

Definitely some prepper fanboy-ing going on with this soothing new pickup, though we are far beyond any shyness or shame about making fun of things both ironically and unironically at the same time. Ah, the land of opportunity. No need to waste your time hating on only one brand of irony.

ETA – Actually, there is no real reason to be hating on much of anything and this example nutshells the fundamental conundrum as first articulated (over to your right, there >). Can we market our way out of this? It’s like the punchline to this entire site.

Seeing Green – the ‘color-blind’ age

Films – our most powerful cultural vehicle – are, like our decisions about climate justice and immigration cruelty, only as good as the people who are making them. For a long time, the film industry hid behind a financial rationale behind the dearth of black, Latinx and Native American directors. Then it had to get even more sophisticated.

The NYT takes us back to the 1990’s, when supposedly everything was changing:

But as the decade wore on, a wall was re-erected, black filmmakers now say, and many of the same people who had been held up as the faces of a changing industry watched as their careers ground slowly to a halt.

“I was told that I was in director’s jail,” said Matty Rich, whose emotionally incendiary 1991 debut film, “Straight Out of Brooklyn,” won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival that year. Major film studios hailed him as a prodigy. But he’s made only one other film since — in 1994.

Darnell Martin, whose vibrant 1994 romantic comedy “I Like It Like That” was the first studio-produced film to be directed by an African-American woman (it won the New York Film Critics Circle award for best first feature), said she was later blacklisted in the industry for speaking out against racism and misogyny.

“You think, ‘It’s O.K. — you’re like every other filmmaker,’ but then you realize, ‘No,’” she said. “It’s like they set us up to fail — all they wanted was to be able to pat themselves on the back like they did something.”

The New York Times recently convened a discussion with six directors who were part of a wave of young black talent that surged 30 years ago this month — beginning with the success of “Do the Right Thing” in July 1989 — only to come crashing down, as Hollywood in the 1990s and 2000s reconstituted itself around films with white directors and white casts.

It may sound obvious – it is – but the way filmmakers speak with a forward voice and vision is of course connected to those individual filmmakers. Our tender baby steps on diversity are quietly arriving after a very extended epoch of everything-else-has-been-tried-to-prove-we-aren’t-racist. Some remain convinced that everything hasn’t been tried, but still… teeny, baby steps. For more on the racial politics of the movie industry,  see this interview with the author of The Hollywood Jim Crow.

The Future of Vandals

Since this is what goes, anything goes. Raising questions about what we were led to believe – no, an after-the-fact description in place of an assessment is not one. It’s a critique, disassociated and casually thoughtless. And all the while confirming that anyone can just do anything and… wait a minute: who is the nihilist here? Oh. The advertising company

The Wikimedia Foundation released a statement asserting that North Face and the ad agency behind the campaign, Leo Burnett Tailor Made, had “unethically manipulated Wikipedia” and “risked your trust in our mission for a short-lived marketing stunt.”

“Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation did not collaborate on this stunt, as The North Face falsely claims,” the statement read. “When The North Face exploits the trust you have in Wikipedia to sell you more clothes, you should be angry.”

And then ‘Brought to you by’ declares they will commit to ‘ensuring their teams and vendors are better trained on the site policies,’ though of course they did not say they are committed or when they would be. Until then, and perhaps for some time afterward, we should remain vigilant about what we are led to believe.