Bill Gates says the massive power draw required for AI processing is nothing to worry about as AI will ultimately identify ways to help cut power consumption and drive the transition to sustainable energy.

The Microsoft founder was speaking at an event in London hosted by his Breakthrough Energy venture fund this week, and reportedly said AI would enable everyone to use less energy by making technology and electricity grids more efficient.

“Let’s not go overboard on this,” he said. “Datacenters are, in the most extreme case, a 6 percent addition [to the energy load] but probably only 2 to 2.5 percent. The question is, will AI accelerate a more than 6 percent reduction? And the answer is: certainly,” Gates said.

However, the billionaire contradicted himself in a Bloomberg TV interview, saying that AI could one day cause bit barns to use as much as 6 percent of global electricity, but felt estimates above 10 percent were wrong. AI will make datacenters more efficient, he insisted, so they will eventually account for a smaller share of future power demand.

Research by Goldman Sachs [PDF] and the Electric Power Research Institute forecast that on present trends, datacenters in the US could account for up to 9 percent of all electricity used by 2030, while Arm CEO Rene Haas put the figure at 20 to 25 percent – though he was trying to sell Arm’s technology as a solution.

The Register has also reported regularly on the growing energy consumption of those bit barns thanks to the compute-intensive processes used to train AI models and the beefier servers crammed full of powerful GPUs that are required to perform the work.

One report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that global electricity demand from datacenters could double by 2026, and picked out Ireland where it said unchecked growth in bit barn power consumption could see them using 32 percent of the country’s total electricity by 2026.

Bill G also said at the event in London that the energy puzzle will solve itself because the extra demand created by AI datacenters is likely to be matched by new investments in green electricity as technology companies are willing to pay extra to use clean electricity sources “to say that they’re using green energy,”.

The issue though isn’t just about electricity consumption. Microsoft itself disclosed earlier this year that it had increased carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 30 percent since 2020, blaming this on the construction and provisioning of more datacenters that it needs to meet customer demand for online services, including AI.

Breakthrough Energy is said to have invested in more than 100 companies developing sustainable energy and other technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As well as being founded by Gates, it counts Jeff Bezos, Masayoshi Son, and Jack Ma as investors.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has backed a company called Numenta and its Thousand Brains project, a general AI framework that aims to reverse engineer the human neocortex. Numenta was founded by Jeff Hawkins of Palm fame. ®

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