AI-Driven Creators Are Better For The Environment Than Humans, Says New Study

AI vs humans - creation carbon footprints
(Image credit: Midjourney )

A study from earlier this year asserts that artificial intelligence-based systems like ChatGPT, BLOOM, DALL-E2, and Midjourney can create literary and artistic works with lower carbon emissions than humans. Moreover, the claimed difference is far from negligible, with the paper suggesting that AI can produce useful texts and images while emitting 3 to 4 orders of magnitude less CO2 than a human would working manually or with the help of a computer.

AI has become far more capable in recent months, moving from being a buzzword to a truly meaningful and impactful technology. Some of those impacts have been negative, especially as the nascent tech has teething troubles with potential copyright infringement, amplifying some of the worst of human evils, or chewing through scarce resources.

The study, entitled "The Carbon Emissions of Writing and Illustrating Are Lower for AI than for Humans," looks closely at two popular tasks for AI: AI writing and AI illustration. It comes from authors at the University of California, Irvine, MIT, the University of Kansas School of Law, and more.

AI vs humans - creation carbon footprints

(Image credit: Bloom)

AI versus Humans: Writing Tasks

The authors have published the data to come up with its comparisons. For the AI, it took into account the energy consumed during the training phase, as well as operational energy use. To weigh human carbon footprints for the same tasks, it considered the average individual's emissions for the US and India, and tallied the energy from any computer time separately.

(Image credit: arXiv)

Another assumption made was "the quality of writing produced by AI is sufficient for whatever task may be at hand." The key findings here may be that BLOOM was 1,500 times less impactful than a US resident creating one page of text, meanwhile the popular ChatGPT could complete the work in a 1,100 less impactful manner.

AI vs humans - creation carbon footprints

(Image credit: Midjourney)

AI versus Humans: Illustration Tasks

The researchers noted here that, as it is based upon GPT-3, "DALL-E2’s footprint is similar to the footprint of ChatGPT calculated above," at about 2.2 grams of CO2 per query. Meanwhile, Midjourney was estimated to be responsible for 1.9 grams of CO2 emissions per query.

(Image credit: arXiv)

The researchers propose that "AI image creation produces 310-2,900 times less CO2 emissions per image than human creators."

The discussion of the paper attempts to address questions that the data may bring up. Firstly, there are a lot of big assumptions behind the comparison numbers. The researchers are well aware of this: atypical results can be had when tasks range from drawing a stick-man at the simple end of the spectrum, or writing "an in-depth, heavily-referenced, original article on a niche scientific topic [which] is currently beyond the capabilities of an AI." In both of those cases, humans can't be beaten by current AIs.

There is also the underlying issue of humans having carbon footprints whether or not they create literary or artistic works - or not. Moreover, if a human isn't writing, for example, they might have a greater carbon footprint from an alternative activity they undertake. Like, if this writer wasn't 'crafting' this article, they might be playing a guitar through a fully cranked stack of 100 watt amplifiers, overclocking their RTX 4090 to within an inch of its life (I can dream), or heating up a kiln to several hundred degrees to fire some home-made pottery.

Some might also find the comparison between a human completing a task against an AI to be distasteful. We'll see if these comparisons hold up as AI systems get more complex and use more sophisticated technologies.

Mark Tyson
Freelance News Writer

Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.

  • USAFRet
    Of course, this completely ignores the aftermath, in which actual people that view and read, have to verify the validity of any AI written stuff.

    Making a statement is one thing.
    Is it right is a whole other thing. And if it is wrong, and people act on that wrong statement...much more larger "carbon footprint" ensues.
  • coolitic
    Ah, the usual "This bar graph is presented as X and therefore I can push Y conclusion". Finding data to fill in a (in this case obviously) pre-formed conclusion is cringe.

    "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
  • Kamen Rider Blade
    While does this article feel like "Big AI" pushing a narative / agenda onto the public?
  • TJ Hooker
    This made me think of some sort of SciFi story where a misaligned AI is tasked with reducing emissions/minimizing climate change, and the AI determines the solution is to eliminate humans.
  • bigdragon
    Great! Replacing all those low level creators with AI will make a dent in the fight against climate change. No more polluting cars, less demand on on housing and energy, less office space, faster results, and less breath emissions.

    Now run this analysis again while focusing on replacing management and executives with AI -- don't just replace the low level grunts. AI can make better decisions, faster, and while considering more inputs than humans. I bet we can completely, 100% wipe out climate change and solve the carbon problem! Just think of all the luxury cars, private jets, mansions, golf courses, and gender reveal parties AI could wipe out! THIS IS GREAT! AI WILL SOLVE EVERYTHING!

    I'm being facetious.
  • Nick_C
    The biological consumers of the created works still exist - and the global population is still growing.
  • Sluggotg
    Computer AI and Computer Models can be controlled by the programmers. You can make a "Computer Model" give you what ever result you want. AI can also be manipulated the same way. If you have AI create most of the content, you can end up in a situation where the man behind the curtain is controlling the AI to give what ever kind of results he wants. If that is News and "Factual" information, it could be manipulated much worse than it is today.
    Don't get me wrong Computer Models created and used with integrity are the cat's meow. AI has its place too. Generating Factual articles and Stories and News does not interest me.
  • williamcll
    USAFRet said:
    actual people that view and read, have to verify the validity of any AI written stuff.
    As if corporations are going to keep hiring people to validate AI content and not just automatically publishing it.
  • USAFRet
    williamcll said:
    As if corporations are going to keep hiring people to validate AI content and not just automatically publishing it.
    I meant us peons out here.
    Unless you plan on taking that AI output at its face value.
  • Darkoverlordofdata
    Cool idea! Let’s start with Tom’s.
    And why stop at just content creators? Replace everyone, from CEO down to the IT Dept. and Janitors. Who needs them?

    Then it can run totally green, no waste. Think of all the profits for shareholders!