Notable in 2023

As we step into the final month of 2023, it's that time again—reflections and predictions flooding the online sphere. At Leafcloud, we're taking a moment to ponder the past year and our ongoing mission to make IT environmentally friendly. While we'll leave the trend forecasts to others, we're eager to share what caught our attention in 2023.

The Explosive Surge of AI

Not a groundbreaking revelation, but impossible to ignore: 2023 is poised to mark the turning point in the history books for the AI revolution. The breakthrough of artificial intelligence has been foretold for years, and this year, it finally unfolded! Everyone continues to talk about ChatGPT—finding someone who doesn't use it is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. This explosion carries significant implications—for our work dynamics, job landscapes, the ethical aspects surrounding IT, legislation, and energy consumption alongside CO2 emissions.

AI Act - Acceleration, Brakes, and More Acceleration!

Firstly, legislation: the European Union embarked with enthusiasm. Having reacted (too) slowly to previous IT developments, this time they initiated regulations around AI in due time. Influenced partly by warnings from figures like Elon Musk about the potential perils of AI. In April 2021, the European Commission proposed initial guidelines based on the system's risk level. The higher the risk, the stricter the requirements. The legislation was nearly finalized when ChatGPT suddenly emerged. As there was a desire to regulate such powerful models under the law, the AI act went back under review. By late October, the definitive law seemed ready until Italy, Germany, and France had a difference of opinion. They sought to exclude the most powerful AI models, such as ChatGPT, from the act. This shift seemed influenced by lobbyists from major corporations fearing "loss of competitive edge and technological sovereignty" due to the new regulations. Despite this unexpected turn, after days of negotiations, on December 8th, EU countries reached a provisional agreement. Once approved by the European Parliament, this will be the world's first AI law, slated to take effect from early 2025.

AI's Energy Consumption

An additional repercussion of AI is its substantial water and energy consumption, leading to correlated CO2 emissions during training and usage. In 2022, Google's data centers witnessed a 20% surge in water usage compared to the previous year, reaching 5.2 billion liters. The trend is expected to escalate further in the 2023 figures and beyond. Parties developing AI models remain relatively discreet about exact consumption figures. However, estimates suggest AI demands five times more energy from data centers than traditional computing. Analysts even suggest that training GPT-4 could equate to the total CO2 emissions of a small nation. With ChatGPT's widespread use at work and home, emissions and water usage are projected to soar. Five ChatGPT queries are equivalent to half a liter of water. AI developers are increasingly cognizant of this. Microsoft, for instance, mentions a focus on AI's energy consumption, aiming to accelerate progress, increase clean energy use for data centers, and pursue other sustainability efforts to achieve carbon negativity and water positivity by 2030. We hope they get there, but we won't hold our breath.

Rise of GreenOps

Employing clean and renewable energy sources forms a part of mitigating AI's escalating energy consumption. Enter GreenOps—an observation that stood out in 2023. GreenOps involves developing and training AI models while optimizing energy consumption, reducing waste, and minimizing CO2 emissions. This is achieved by optimizing server configurations, reducing workloads, and consciously selecting the time and location for development. For instance, training during daylight hours enables the utilization of renewable energy sources. Initially rooted in environmental concerns, the methodology not only shrinks ecological footprints but also offers cost savings and enhances operational efficiency. Expect to hear much more about this in 2024!

In our blog series on GreenOps, we provide practical tips on implementing this in your AI model training. Click the links above to delve deeper into this topic.

Amazon's Sovereign European Cloud?

Another noteworthy development is the advent of the so-called sovereign cloud. Starting in 2024, the Network and Information Security (NIS2) directive will take effect. Organizations categorized as 'essential' or 'critical,' including governments, food producers, and digital service providers, will be prohibited from using American cloud providers. This move is justified for several reasons. Primarily, privacy concerns arise. The CLOUD Act grants US law enforcement and intelligence agencies global authority to demand data from US providers of electronic communication services, such as Google and Amazon. This contradicts the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Dutch government is unwilling to share Dutch citizens' data with US intelligence agencies. However, sovereignty isn't solely about data—it encompasses the right to easily migrate applications and services. More organizations are or aim to operate within a multicloud environment but face limitations due to vendor lock-in. In response, hyperscalers have set up clouds in sovereign European regions in recent years to ensure compliance, often with adapted contracts and sometimes sector-specific compliance requirements, primarily concerning data sovereignty. Taking it a step further, Amazon launched the sovereign European cloud amidst much fanfare—a new, independent cloud for Europe designed to offer customers in highly regulated industries and the public sector more choices regarding data residency and operational autonomy. Yet, uncertainties linger—does this cloud fall outside the purview of the Cloud Act, given Amazon's headquarters in the US? Additionally, will hyperscalers relinquish their hold on customers and grant them the freedom to migrate, considering their core objective remains profitability?

What's Your Plan for 2024?

For optimum freedom and security, choosing a Dutch data center remains the best option. Our advice: Keep your data in the Netherlands. Ideally, opt for a sustainable data center to reduce your IT consumption's impact on the environment and AI development. At Leafcloud, we position servers in existing buildings, tapping into central hot water supplies. 85% of the excess heat can be reused, conserving fossil fuels and even resulting in negative CO2 emissions. Curious about how this works? Find out more here. So, as you draft your resolutions, consider your IT consumption. Will we catch up with you in 2024?