ChatGPT: A Digital Revolution! But at what (environmental) cost?

Overproductivity, electricity overconsumption, servers overuse, not to mention an overaccumulation of content

Increasingly used by companies and individuals, ChatGPT is an incredibly powerful tool. And its competitors are rushing to the market: Google Bard, Bing GPT... But what are the environmental consequences of using these artificial intelligences?

ChatGPT, increasingly used by both businesses and individuals, is an incredibly powerful tool. Its competitors are flocking to the market, such as Google Bard, Bing GPT... But what are the environmental consequences of using these artificial intelligences?

Simply typing "ChatGPT" into Google or LinkedIn will give you a long list of articles dedicated to this tool, written in different languages. This artificial intelligence, released at Christmas 2022 as a gift from the Silicon Valley, amazed the world. Millions of users now use it every day for all sorts of requests, from translating content, writing articles or computer code, to cooking recipes, inspiring speeches, and cover letters.

Infinite Growth for ChatGPT?

Histogramme indiquant qu'en 5 jours ChatGPT a obtenu 1 millions d'utilisateurs contre 2,5 mois pour Instagram, 5 mois pour Spotify, 7 mois Dropbox...


ChatGPT managed to obtain over a million users in just 5 days, compared to the 2 and a half months it took Instagram to convince the same number of people.

In the midst of an ecological crisis and potential restrictions (energies, computer components, raw materials...), ChatGPT consumes a huge amount of resources.

1 576 272 Miles

driven by car: this is the equivalent of the environmental cost of AI training alone.

Source: University of California study

Microsoft, OpenAI, and even Google have not disclosed the energy cost needed to run their AI. But according to a study from the University of California and an article from Wired, the training of AI alone cost 552 tCO2e, which is 1287 MWh: approximately 550 round trips between New York and San Francisco, or 1 576 272 miles by car.

When it comes to the energy cost required to answer each user's questions, it depends on the demands. Some tasks require more effort from the Artificial Intelligence. According to the study, it is therefore not obvious to calculate its impact at the moment.

However, one thing is for sure: the servers are overheating to answer all of our questions - and to allow us to increase our productivity. To better understand the material and energy effort that lies behind ChatGPT, I recommend reading our secret recipe for creating a similar Artificial Intelligence.

This new technology is anything but eco-friendly. And for those who dream of it, it is not ready to find a solution to the ongoing ecological crisis either... because it is based solely on human knowledge.

My job will be replaced by ChatGPT

This fear has been heard expressed aloud by our friends or colleagues. Yet, ChatGPT is not about to completely replace careers - or even Web services. It is simply going to be added to them.

History repeats itself, and one example shows this well: with the deployment of office work to the general public, it was believed that computing would replace paper. But it's not that simple...

The development of digital technology changes nothing, we still consume a lot of paper. It represents 75% of office waste and is ultimately very little recycled. It is up to us to change that!

Source:ADEME - Agir pour la transition

The same goes for COPACEL, the representative of French companies producing paper, cardboard and cellulose paste.

Graphique décrivant la production et consommation de papier et cartons (1986-2016). 9 000 tonnes en 1988 vs 11 000 tonnes en 2008
Source: Statistical Report 2016 - COPACEL

Why? Because innovations pile up in our landscape.

Thus, ChatGPT will allow a number of Internet users to produce even more content - polluting the Web in the process, with hyper-recycled information that no longer brings any additional value.

That's why tools like ChatGPT should be used sparingly, not out of habit. The human brain is still the most interesting, and exchanges between living beings with creativity, emotions and experiences.

So you still have time before you are replaced by an AI. But in the meantime, the planet's resources are being depleted.


Use ChatGPT as a tool, but only when you really need it. For example, if you want to know the name of the current mayor of your city, go directly to Wikipedia or a simple search engine. The result will be the same, with less cost to the planet. Be moderate and proportionate in your use: there's no need to use a nuclear bomb to kill a mosquito.

[Cover photo: Christina Kirschnerova]

Journalist constantly searching for new tools that are lightweight, accessible to all, and respectful of users' privacy.


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