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AI’s green benefits will outweigh its emissions

Bill Gates said artificial intelligence (AI) will “pay for itself” when it comes to its associated greenhouse gas emissions, as the technology will help push forward the energy transition.

AI will make data centres more efficient, helping them represent a smaller share of future power demand, he said in a Bloomberg TV interview. Gates said the technology may one day use as much as 6% of global electricity — more than the estimated 2% today — but felt that estimates above 10% are wrong.

Gates’ comments come after AI received increased scrutiny amid expectations that it will dramatically raise energy needs. In some parts of the world, demand from data centres is already outstripping the available power supply, a trend which threatens to upend the energy transition plans of entire nations.

Gates countered that additional demand from electric cars, heat pumps, and green steel manufacturing will all “dwarf even this amazing demand for data centres now”.

The Microsoft co-founder is in London this week attending a three-day summit for his venture fund Breakthrough Energy, which has invested in more than a hundred companies involved in the energy transition.

In a wide-ranging interview, Gates also spoke of the potential for carbon capture to help the world reach net zero, saying removing emissions from the atmosphere is a limited solution due to its costs.

“There are companies that we have funded out there that have the possibility to get to US$50 (RM235.96) and below, but that’s kind of a brute force solution that you want to save for the most hard-to-abate sectors,” he said, referring to the per ton price of carbon abatement.

The key will be to get the cost to “well below US$100 a ton”, Gates said, adding that he pays US$200 a ton to offset his own personal emissions. Bloomberg

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