Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Ed Markey vs. AI's climate impacts

Sen. Ed Markey

Markey speaks earlier this week. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Accountable Tech

Sen. Ed Markey is going after artificial intelligence's environmental impacts.

Why it matters: Markey's usually got the pulse of climate activists. If he is targeting an industry, that often means it's become a priority for them.

Driving the news: Markey introduced legislation Thursday that would direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to make a rubric for analyzing AI's environmental impacts.

  • The bill would also require an interagency study of AI's environmental pros and cons.
  • It'll be cosponsored by Wyden and Sens. Martin Heinrich, Peter Welch and Alex Padilla.

Reality check: A bill like this can have difficulty becoming law without bipartisan support and/or hitching a ride on a larger legislative vehicle. But with "idea" bills that's not always the point.

The big picture: This bill is part of a wider push across the activist space and academia to focus on AI's role in a decarbonizing world.

  • On the one hand, AI can help with reducing emissions by easing the manpower burden needed to scrutinize energy use. On the other, like with cryptocurrency, AI demands a lot of power.
  • The federal government is now asking crypto miners for energy data, so it wouldn't be a shock to see the same requested of the AI space.

Our thought bubble, from Axios AI+'s Ryan Heath: While inefficiency should be avoided and measuring energy use is always helpful, significant energy use by AI systems is not inherently bad.

  • Powerful AI can see patterns, or propose materials and compounds, or optimize energy use in ways that have very positive environmental impacts.
Go deeper