For planet and people: IBM’s focus on AI ethics in sustainability

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AI can be a force for good, but it can also lead to environmental and sustainability concerns. IBM is dedicated to the responsible development and deployment of technology that can enable our clients to meet their sustainability goals.

“AI presents an incredible opportunity to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges in healthcare, manufacturing, climate change and more,” said Christina Shum, IBM’s global head of sustainability software and a member of the AI ​​Ethics Board. ” “But these benefits must be achieved while reducing environmental impact. This means making more sustainable choices about how to build, train and use models, where processing takes place, what infrastructure is used, and How open and collaborative we are along the way.”

Design, adopt and train AI with a focus on sustainability.

The European Commission estimates that more than 80% of the environmental impact of all products is determined during their design phase. As large language models (LLMs) continue to grow in popularity, it is important to determine whether an LLM is needed, or whether a traditional AI model will do. An article from Columbia University states that LLM queries use five times more power than traditional search engines. As data usage and processing activities increase, so will global emissions. Therefore, it is crucial to design and manage systems sustainably.

IBM’s concrete initiatives to support the sustainability of AI

Creating AI requires a lot of energy and data. According to the European Union’s 2023 Energy Efficiency Directive, Europe’s data center electricity consumption is expected to increase by 28 percent from 2018 to 2030, illustrating the environmental costs of using AI. IBM has taken a number of steps to reduce the environmental impact of its AI systems. In our 2023 Impact Report, we reported that 70.6% of IBM’s total electricity consumption came from renewable sources, including 74% of the electricity used by IBM data centers. In 2023, 28 data centers globally sourced 100% of their electricity from renewable sources.

IBM is focused on developing energy-efficient ways to train, tune and run AI models, such as its own Granite Foundation model. At 13 billion parameter models, granite models are smaller and more efficient than larger models, and therefore may have less impact on the environment.

In 2022, IBM introduced Vela, its first AI-optimized, cloud-native supercomputer. This design allows efficient deployment and management of its infrastructure anywhere in the world, helping to reduce pressure on existing resources.

Other IBM products designed to support the sustainability of AI include:

  • IBM® Envizi™, a suite of software products designed to help companies simplify environmental, social and governance reporting.
  • IBM TRIRIGA®, an integrated workplace management system that can help improve energy management.
  • IBM Maximo®, which can help monitor, manage and maintain operations in ways that encourage sustainability across the asset lifecycle.

According to John Thomas, vice president and distinguished engineer at IBM Expert Labs and a member of the AI ​​Ethics Board, “It is encouraging to see our clients balancing the benefits of AI with their long-term sustainability goals. Interest is growing. Some of our leading clients are bringing this requirement into their enterprise AI governance frameworks.

Holistic sustainability: Beyond the environment to include social impacts

IBM aspires to make a lasting, positive impact on the environment, the communities in which we work and live, and business ethics. In 2021, IBM launched the IBM Sustainability Accelerator, a pro bono social impact program that applies IBM technologies, including AI, and expertise to grow and scale nonprofit and government organization solutions. The program supports populations that are particularly vulnerable to environmental threats. In 2024, IBM announced our latest request for proposals on the topic of Resilient Cities, which aims to explore ways to promote urban resilience in the long term. IBM plans to increase investment in the program to an additional $45 million over the next five years.

IBM also focuses on closing the skills gap in the workforce, including around AI and sustainability. Last year, IBM SkillsBuild® added a new selection of generative AI courses as part of our new AI training commitment. IBM also launched a new sustainability curriculum to help equip the next generation of leaders with skills for a green economy. This free training connects the latest technologies to the environment and climate change.

Focus on AI ethics and sustainability in the IBM ecosystem.

IBM has long been committed to doing business with suppliers who conduct themselves with high standards of ethical, environmental and social responsibility. This commitment includes a code of conduct through the Responsible Business Alliance, of which IBM is a founding member. We support this commitment by setting specific environmental requirements for our suppliers and partnering with them to drive continuous improvement.

In 2022, IBM completed its first commitment to promote AI ethics practices across our ecosystem, exceeding its goal of training 1,000 ecosystem partners in technology ethics. In 2023, we announced a new commitment to train 1,000 technology suppliers in technology ethics by 2025, and we’re on our way.

AI can augment human intelligence, increase fairness, and improve, or reduce, income. Regulations may force some responsibility, but developers and users must consider people, planet, and profit when using AI.

A human-centered approach to AI requires advancing the capabilities of AI while adopting ethical practices and addressing sustainability needs. As IBM uses AI in all applications, we are committed to using AI sustainably and empowering AI stakeholders to do the same.

Learn more about IBM’s sustainability solutions Learn more about AI ethics at IBM

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