To decarbonize we must decomputerize

‘Ubiquitous “smartness” largely serves to enrich and empower the few at the expense of the many, while inflicting ecological harm that will threaten the survival and flourishing of billions of people.’

‘Ubiquitous “smartness” largely serves to enrich and empower the few at the expense of the many, while inflicting ecological harm that will threaten the survival and flourishing of billions of people.’

This is the central argument behind a superb piece by Ben Tarnoff, published last week in the Guardian, which bears the provocative title ‘To decarbonize we must decomputerize: why we need a Luddite revolution’. This article, which is well worth reading in full, makes the following claims:

  • As more areas of life come to rely on computation, AI and machine learning, the energy footprint of the cloud’s physical infrastructure is rapidly increasing, and is already vast.
  • Much of that energy comes from fossil fuels. It is unlikely that attempts to push for ‘green AI’ will provide anywhere near enough energy to meet demand, which is increasing exponentially.
  • Therefore, digitization is a disaster for the climate.
  • On a human level, although ‘digital enclosure’ is widely regarded as progress, in reality it provides a means for big tech to exert greater control over individuals and populations. (The word ‘Entanglement’ is not used, but this is a classic definition of the Entanglement.)
  • Although resistance is increasing, in order to make a difference we must do more than resist: we must offer a vision for the future we want.
  • Luddism allows us to approach technological developments with intention, considering them from a human-centric viewpoint.
  • ‘We should destroy machinery hurtful to the common good and build machinery helpful to it.’

There’s a whole load of common sense here – common sense that is missing from the mainstream tech debate, which holds the view that handing all human affairs over to computers is good, that if we suffer because of it we’re the problem, and that the new way is always best because look at this futuristic shiny thing! It’s high time that the antihuman ideas of Silicon Valley get consigned to the dustbin of history. I see signs for hope, but we’ve got a long way to go.

A few choice quotes:

we should put another tactic on the table: making less data. We should reject the assumption that our built environment must become one big computer. We should erect barriers against the spread of “smartness” into all of the spaces of our lives.

In the present tense … putting computers everywhere is bad for most people. It enables advertisers, employers and cops to exercise more control over us – in addition to helping heat the planet.

Decomputerization doesn’t mean no computers. It means that not all spheres of life should be rendered into data and computed upon. Ubiquitous “smartness” largely serves to enrich and empower the few at the expense of the many, while inflicting ecological harm that will threaten the survival and flourishing of billions of people.

Luddism urges us to consider: progress towards what and progress for whom? Sometimes a technology shouldn’t exist. Sometimes the best thing to do with a machine is to break it.

Read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/sep/17/tech-climate-change-luddites-data

Author: Alex Roddie

Writer and editor.

One thought on “To decarbonize we must decomputerize”

  1. About 10 years ago I was in talks with some big data centres on how to make their operations more green. There’s here in Scandinavia a few who are powered by renewable energy, but as the need for these has exponentially grown there’s likely no other way then to get rid of many in order to make that industry more sustainable. That, or then we finally build that massive solar farm in the Sahara which would bring good jobs to Northern Africa and help power large parts of that Continent + Europe!

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