#rp24 speaker Paris Marx: The Cloud Backlash

16.05.2024 - Generative AI might be all the rage in the tech industry, but it’s incredibly computationally intensive.
Paris Marx als Speaker auf der re:publica
Photo Credit
Anne Barth/re:publica

To power their AI fantasies, major cloud providers are planning a significant expansion of their data centre networks. But the water, energy, and mineral demands of those massive warehouses of servers are already fueling a growing backlash around the world. 

At re:publica 24, Paris Marx will discuss the high cost of the generative AI hype cycle, where the backlash to data centre construction is most fierce, and how that fight gives us the opportunity to question how much computation we actually need to build a better world.

Paris Marx is a Canadian tech critic and host of the award-winning Tech Won't Save Us podcast. He writes Disconnect and is the author of Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation. His work and commentary is regularly published in major publications and he speaks internationally about the politics of technology.

At #rp24, we look forward to inspiring discussions with Paris about the current backlash to the AI-fueled data centre boom.



#WhoCares: An interview with Paris Marx.

The Motto of re:publica 24 is „Who cares?“. Whom or what are you currently caring about?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of the internet and where this is all going. After two decades of intense control by major US corporations, the experience of going online is being rapidly eroded to feed their need for constant growth and large profit margins. Are we just going to accept that, or are we going to demand something different? And will that future still be one where we’re at the whim of US companies, or demand that control come back closer to the user?

What do we as a society fail to care enough about?

Far too many things, and all too often technology and technological narratives are deployed to help distract us from the serious problems we face. Even at this moment companies are still pushing fantasies about AI being a magical tool that will make our lives better and the systems we rely on run more efficiently, when in reality we know how often it’s used to take work from humans, justify discriminatory systems, and make the world even more unequal.

Has anyone, any movement, or any institution caught your attention by their commitment to a particular cause?

I find the organising against data centres to be incredibly inspiring, whether in Ireland, the Nordic countries, Chile, or any number of other countries where those movements are growing. The footprint of the “cloud” is becoming increasingly tangible for people around the world, as it demands vast quantities of water, energy, and minerals to deliver on the AI fantasies of tech billionaires. Their fight is not just about protecting their communities and the environment; it forces us to ask a bigger question: how much computation do we really need?

What topics will you be discussing at re:publica?

This year at re:publica, I’ll be discussing that very question: the material footprint of data centres and how much is too much. Tech companies want to roll out resource-intensive AI tools in as many areas as possible, but even OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has admitted that would require an “energy breakthrough” to achieve without heating the planet even more rapidly than we already are. The future they imagine is not one we can afford — so how do we stop it, and what do we do instead?

The Backlash to the AI-Fueled Data Center Boom

Paris Marx

Generative AI is all the rage, but it’s very computationally intensive. To power their AI fantasies, cloud providers are planning a significant expansion of data centers, but their material costs are fueling a growing backlash. How much computation do we actually need to build a better world?
Business models
Climate crisis
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