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Is the future of AI sustainable? A case study of the European Union

Reference Type: 

Journal Article

Perucica, Natasa, and Katarina Andjelkovic. 2022. “Is the Future of AI Sustainable? A Case Study of the European Union.” Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy 16 (3): 347–58.

The purpose of this paper is to raise awareness on the need for a more comprehensive approach on the interdependence between artificial intelligence (AI) and environmental sustainability. It provides an overview of existing sustainable AI policy initiatives at the national and regional level. More precisely, it discusses whether existing European Union (EU) environmental policies are suitable for the AI era or whether new regulations are needed in this field. Finally, this paper assesses cross-fertilisation opportunities between the EU and non-EU countries.

This study is based on a qualitative analysis of sustainable applications of AI and the sustainability of AI. Emphasis is laid on the latter, and a “sustainable by design” approach is proposed, which in essence is a prerequisite for transparent, responsible and human-centred AI systems. The analysis primarily focuses on environmental sustainability.

The majority of studies focus on how to use AI to protect the environment with very little attention paid to sustainable design of AI. On the other hand, the EU’s comprehensive approach towards sustainable AI is closest to promoting “sustainable by design” AI. Several ways have been identified in which the EU’s actions can be translated beyond its borders.

Research limitations/implications
One of the largest limitations of this study is its moderate scope. This paper is confined to the EU and as such provides a limited assessment of global policies and measures on the interplay between sustainability and AI. Consequently, the paper did not provide an in-depth analysis of environmental policies worldwide that could help provide a better picture of possible cooperation areas or common grounds. Another limitation of this study is that it primarily focuses on environmental aspects and as such accords little attention to the economic and social pillars of sustainability.

Social implications
With less than 10 years to go before reaching the sustainable development goal deadline, this study can help stakeholders better understand what is being done worldwide in terms of sustainable AI. Moreover, given that the technology is still in its early phase, this study can inspire a “sustainable by design” approach to the development of AI technologies.

All national AI strategies published by 1 June 2021 were analysed to identify whether and to what extent they prioritise the interplay between environment and AI. Furthermore, the authors also looked at the EU policy and how it aims to address AI from a sustainable perspective.

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