Burning Platforms: Can technology really save the planet?

As world leaders debate the planet's future at COP26, the Morrison government's 'plan' places distinct emphasis on new technology. This session of Burning Platforms discusses the environmental impacts of technological development as part of the NetThing internet governance conference.

Key points:

  • Facebook's 'Meta' rebrand and emphasis on the metaverse is another example of its attempt to dominate a nascent market and stake a claim on a new area for surveillance and data harvesting.
  • Facebook also announced that it will stop collecting images captured from facial recognition technology, which is just a "screenwashing" technique of pretending to care about ethical use of technology but is essentially self-serving.
  • This type of image scraping was determined as a clear breach of privacy by the Privacy Commissioner who found that Clearview AI breached Australians' privacy.
  • Recent regulatory proposals on privacy and defamation could potentially be election issues as the Coalition prepare a suite of initiatives against Big Tech.
  • Technology has constantly been used as a silver bullet in addressing systemic societal issues, including environmental issues.
  • Dr. Benedetta Brevini's research started with unpacking the myths and overall mythmaking around technology, which over time has been magnified. For example, metaphors of "the cloud" are part of our overall myths of technology being clean and disembodied - suggesting something light and airy, but in fact, the cloud is grounded in energy-intensive data servers in data centres that have significant physicality and material production.
  • Technology infrastructure development has an ignored history of exploitation of natural resources and displacement of local communities around that resource, like lithium mining.
  • AI and data processing is particularly energy-intensive, with the global tech footprint already accounting for approximately 10% of emissions and on track to become 40%.
  • Technophiles often argue that incremental product improvements in their technology will address their respective carbon footprints, however this process often takes too long, and will be too late to resolve catastrophic climate change.
  • Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook often claim their carbon neutrality roadmaps, but their energy-intensive data centres must be factored in, and currently most are still powered by fossil fuels.

 

You can also listen to this Burning Platforms session as a podcast below: