April 24, 2024

Health AI Tools Are Simultaneously Damaging The Environment 

While on the one hand AI tools are revolutionizing healthcare, it’s also simultaneously putting the patients at a larger risk by damaging the climate.

This harrowing reality comes to light with a new paper called ‘Environmental Sustainability and AI in Radiology: A Double-Edged Sword’, published in Radiology.

AI has become an integral part of the healthcare industry over the past couple of years, especially in radiology where these tools are used to quickly process patient reports and scans to detect the underlying condition.

But the large amount of energy and resources required to use the tools are ultimately harming the environment which truly is one of the biggest health risk factors for everyone.

Kate Hanneman, who is the deputy lead of sustainability at the Joint Department of Medical Imaging at Toronto General Hospital, said Medical imaging generates a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, but we often don’t think about the environmental impact of associated data storage and AI tools.

She further added that since AI has truly done an amazing job at transforming the industry, the only way of going forward is to maximize the positive outcomes and minimize the negative impacts.

In simple words, she says it’s important to improve the patient’s life and that should be the ultimate goal. But in the process, we also have to keep an eye on negative by-products associated with it.

Read More: Sam Altman plans to raise $7 trillion for his upcoming AI chip project

To understand how AI contributes to the climate crisis, it’s important to understand how the process works. Let’s take an example from the medical field. For an AI to correctly detect a condition, it needs to be trained with millions of sample images and data for it to be acquainted with different types of diseases.

Now, for these millions of data to be used, they also need to be stored somewhere, which is usually on servers. Each such server farm consumes massive energy to stay powered. This means that the city’s overall energy generation increases which in turn increases the emissions associated with it.

Now this is just one tool we are talking about. There are several AI tools available in the market today. Some of them, such as ChatGPT, Adobe, and Gemini are even available to the masses which means everyone is now using AI.

So imagine the amount of energy required to power all these AI tools and server farms. To give you an estimate, it was found that the total greenhouse gas emissions from these server farms and data centers are more than the entire airline industry. No wonder the climate is taking a hit.

Read More: AI energy requirements to need a nuclear fusion breakthrough, says Sam Altman

What Is The Solution Now?

The only one capable of making an actual difference is either the government or the makers of these tools.

However, industry experts have a few suggestions to share. For starters, these tools need to be more energy-efficient i.e. more work done at less power consumption. Secondly, there has to be a way to share the resources through collaboration.

For example, the same energy that’s required to support one hospital or healthcare center can support the entire city’s healthcare system if only each healthcare unit agrees to share the outcome with its peers.

Considering the rapid growth of AI and its increased popularity, if we don’t soon find a fix to this problem, we are probably doomed.

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