Summary of Anatomy of an AI System

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Anatomy of an AI System summary
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Professors Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler have created a map that visualizes the many processes that make the Amazon Echo work. In this essay, which accompanies their map, they take you on a fascinating journey outlining the global networks of raw material, human labor and data behind today’s popular gadgets. 

In this summary, you will learn

  • What resources are involved in producing and powering an AI device, and 
  • What the social and environmental costs of AI systems are. 
 

About the Authors

Kate Crawford is a professor at New York University. Vladan Joler is a professor at the Academy of Arts at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia.

 

Summary

Operating AI-powered devices involves massive amounts of resources: raw material, human labor and data. Rare earth minerals, for example, are indispensable components of many electronic devices. Minable ore deposits of rare earth minerals are concentrated in only a few places, and their extraction is cumbersome and highly polluting. Yet these minerals, which took billions of years to form in the Earth’s crust, are used in devices with a lifespan of only a few years. The minerals then end up back underground in electronic waste dumps. The chains of production from mine to product are so complex that technology companies are hard-pressed to identify the source of the many minerals and materials used for their products. The processor manufacturer Intel, which supplies only one component of an Apple device, already counts more than 19,000 suppliers in more than 100 countries. The global nature of the manufacturing process comes with significant external costs to the environment. In burning large quantities of low-grade fuel, the shipping industry isn’t just polluting the oceans and the air with toxic substances, but it’s also contributing 3.1% of yearly global carbon dioxide emissions.


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