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On Earth Day 2019, Google posted this video about the "urgency of radically addressing
sustainability officer. Now she works to make Google a global leader in "reducing or even
by 2017, they got that up to 100 percent. They've also managed to lower their total
energy use with some help from a branch of artificial intelligence called machine learning.
A computer program takes in lots of data and trains itself to operate the centers as efficiently
as possible. Here's energy use under human supervision, and when the AI is in charge.
The more data the AI trains on, the better it gets at reducing energy use. But here's
the thing: This same technology can be used to automate lots of other tasks, like fossil
fuel discovery and extraction. And while Google is using AI to increase the efficiency of
its operation, it's also using it to try and get as much oil and gas out of the ground
as possible. In 2018, Google hired Darryl Willis, a veteran of British Petroleum, to
lead its new oil, gas, and energy division. Willis explained "our plan is to be the partner
of choice for the energy industry." They've already signed a deal with Total, one of the
world's biggest oil companies, to develop AI that will streamline oil and gas exploration
and production. And Google's not alone. Microsoft and Amazon are also teaming up with the fossil
fuel industry. Big Tech has entered the oil business.
On June 15, 1957, the citizens of Tulsa, Oklahoma
buried a rather odd time capsule, a brand new Plymouth Belvedere. Sealed inside
among commemorative plates, ash trays, t-shirts, and books that captured the spirit of the
times, was a 16mm film reel. It showed a martian visiting the United States and learning that
oil and competition made the nation prosper. Also included in the capsule were gasoline
and motor oil. In 1957, it seemed like a very real possibility that these products wouldn't
be around in 50 years when the Belvedere was scheduled to be disinterred. Newspapers around
the country were reporting that America's oil production would soon fall off. And as
that cartoon martian learned, discoveries of new reserves were rare. "Only one well
in nine finds any oil at all. And only one in almost a thousand makes a major discovery."
Oil has always been really hard to find. America's first oil well was drilled in 1859 near a
particularly greasy creek in Pennsylvania. It was obvious there was oil seeping up from
the ground here, but it took Edwin Drake over a year and all his money to find a measly
little pocket of black gold. Still, his discovery triggered an oil boom and a Pennsylvania paper
was soon explaining that the substance could "illuminate, lubricate, make candles, and cure
most diseases from which humanity suffers." Not all of that proved true, but 100 years
later, petroleum had given the world "fabrics, toothbrushes, tires, insecticide, cosmetics,
weed killers, a whole galaxy of things to make a better life on Earth." And of course,
fuel. The energy needs of the world have risen a lot since 1859. And from very early on there
were fears that fossil fuels couldn't meet this demand. In 1909, some thought oil and
gas would run out around 1937. In 1937, US oil supplies were supposed to disappear by
1952. And so on, and so on, as fossil fuels became more and more essential in every day
life, predictions of a crash kept coming. But somehow, the oil kept flowing. "I couldn't
imagine how this ever-increasing supply of oil was achieved. Until I found out that there's
not just one but thousands of oil companies all competing with each other to discover
and develop new sources of oil." From the earliest days, competing companies invested
in better technology to extract fossil fuels, better drills, better pumps, and they developed
better techniques for finding new oil reserves, creating seismic vibrations to see underneath
the ground, using satellite LIDAR to reveal hidden structures, detecting subtle changes
in the Earth's gravity and magnetism. Thanks in part to these advances, by 2007, when a
very rusty Belvedere was exhumed, global oil production was still on the rise. In the US,
it did look like oil was finally petering out, until investment in new technology, fracking
and horizontal wells in vast shale formations, brought it roaring back. Today, once again,
if we just rely on current reserves and current tech, oil production will start to falter,
but if new technology lets us squeeze more out of the reserves we already have and find
new sources of oil, we'll be able to meet the growing demand. It's just a matter of
finding the next technological leap. Of course, there's a problem with using fossil fuels
to meet the world's energy needs. Climate change. Oil, gas and coal are a time capsule
of a different sort, sealing ancient carbon deep below the Earth. When humans open that
time capsule and burn those fossil fuels, carbon reenters the atmosphere as the greenhouse
gas CO2. Since 1859, CO2 levels have shot up and so has the planet's temperature. If
we keep going like this, if we burn all the fossil fuels we currently have access to,
models suggest that the Earth could warm somewhere between 6.4 and 9.5 degrees. And so climate
activists say there's only one thing to do. "Keep it in the ground. Keep it in the ground.
Keep it in the ground. Keep it in the ground." That's easier chanted than done. Currently,
the world relies on fossil fuels for 85 percent of its energy needs. Keeping it in the ground
will require a huge shift to renewables and lower energy use in general. And big tech
companies have publicly rushed to be part of this effort. "Sustainability has been a
core value since our founding." "There had been pockets of sustainability living within
Amazon's business since the very beginning." "One of the problems we can help solve is
energy consumption." "We can invent our way out of this problem." "Innovation is the key
to solving this problem." "We can put artificial intelligence and digital technology to use
to help our customers in every part of the economy become more sustainable themselves."
It turns out that same artificial intelligence technology is just what oil companies need
to stay profitable. See the fossil fuel industry has amassed lots and lots of valuable data
as they've mapped Earth's crust in search of reserves. Take this patch of ocean floor
in the North Sea. In 1989, Dutch geologists painstakingly mapped the different rock layers
using seismic scans. Researchers at IBM recently fed all that seismic data into a machine learning
algorithm and after about 10 minutes of training, the AI was able to label the rock layers nearly
as accurately as human experts. Another group at Georgia Tech used machine learning to quickly
identify structures important to oil discovery. You could imagine how an AI could train itself
with all kinds of data to pinpoint the best places to drill. And once drilling begins,
AI can streamline extraction to make it cheaper. That kind of efficiency can help the oil and
gas industry compete with renewables and so it's no surprise that they spent an estimated
1.75 billion dollars on AI in 2018. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are competing for a
piece of that pie. Google has signed agreements with several fossil fuel companies. Microsoft
has teamed up with Exxon and Chevron, and just hired Daryl Willis away from Google.
And Amazon, who already provides cloud services to BP and Shell is marketing its ability to
accelerate and optimize exploration, drilling, and production of oil and gas. While they
talk up their commitment to sustainability, big tech is making sure the world can keep
burning plenty of fossil fuel. "And if you have both of these things, any goal is possible.
It's destination unlimited."
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Google and Amazon are now in the oil business

51 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on August 8, 2020
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