Is AI a Solution to Climate Change? [HTC #53]
Welcome to the 53rd edition of Hold the Code! Today’s edition features discussion on OpenAI’s recent business ventures, carbon capture as a method to reduce climate change, and a potential new treatment for Arthritis.If you enjoy reading HTC, be to share uswith a friend and as always, Happy Reading!
Have any thoughts or questions about generative AI? We’d love to hear them! Please send anything you’d like to share through our Google Forms here.
OpenAI: Business Savvy?
Image Source: Nurphoto via Getty
OpenAI, the research lab behind ChatGPT and DALL-E, has reportedly been engaged in talks with Microsoft about a potential acquisition that would value the former at nearly $29 billion (for reference, the tenth most expensive unicorn company today, Epic Games, is valued at roughly $31 billion). Though OpenAI calls itself a “capped-profit” company, meaning investors can earn a limited return on investment, it is important to take a closer look at how OpenAI has been funded in the past and its financial future.
Beginning in December 2015 with the backing of Silicon Valley tech moguls, OpenAI promised to make its patents and research open to the public in line with its goal to:
“ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity”.
The company operated as a not-for-profit and solicited donations from major organizations including the Open Philanthropy Project, which made a $30 million donation in early 2017. Seeing a need to raise more funds and retain talent, the company changed its status to “capped for-profit” in 2019 and partnered with Microsoft, who announced a $1 billion investment into the research group, attracting some controversy in the process. In particular, critics argued that moving to a capped-profit model and creating exclusive licenses for its products would be antithetical to the company’s mission of “democratizing AI”.
After partnering with Microsoft, OpenAI saw the continued development of breakthrough AI models. GPT-3, which is the “backbone” for ChatGPT, was exclusively licensed to Microsoft in September 2020. By late 2022, ChatGPT had become a worldwide phenomenon, and Microsoft began to integrate the technology into its Bing search engine. More recently, Microsoft launched its Azure OpenAI service, which offered Azure-partnered businesses access to OpenAI tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E. Though unconfirmed, some industry sources suggest that Microsoft has invested an additional $2 billion into the company since its 2019 investment.
Future Partnership Terms
According to one potential report, Microsoft would invest $10 billion into OpenAI for a 49% stake in the company while also earning 75% of all profits generated by the latter until the initial investment is paid back in full. Microsoft, which seeks to compete with Google and Amazon in the AI space, still holds over $100 billion in cash on hand. More recently, Microsoft and OpenAI announced a “third phase” in their partnership that would involve a “multiyear, multibillion dollar” investment into the company, though it remains to be seen whether the ownership structure of OpenAI will be drastically changed.
Can carbon capture solve climate change?
Image Source: Hartmut Rauhut from www.vattenfall.com
Swiss company Climeworks announced that it has successfully performed direct air capture, which is the act of removing carbon dioxide from the air and putting it in the ground where it won’t contribute to climate change. This is the first time a company has provided carbon removal services for paying customers. The company, whose corporate clients include Microsoft, Stripe, and Shopify, also allows individuals to offset their personal carbon emissions using this method.
Other examples of carbon removal
Climeworks isn’t the only company operating in this industry. Other companies offer similar services, albeit with their own methods for removing carbon. For example, the Canadian company CarbonCure puts carbon dioxide to use by injecting it into concrete mixes, which permanently stores the carbon dioxide and has the added benefit of making the concrete stronger. However, CarbonCure mainly stores the emissions of large industrial facilities like chemical plants, so it isn’t removing carbon dioxide, but instead preventing new emissions.
It’s not just companies investing in carbon capture, carbon removal also currently enjoys bipartisan support in Washington. Last year, the Department of Energy launched a $3.5 billion program to develop four direct air capture hubs across the U.S., with each one intended to permanently remove over 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Can this be the way forward?
Despite the advances by Climeworks, opinions on whether carbon capture is a greenwashing technique to deceive consumers that they’re being environmentally friendly or a potential climate solution vary. A report from The Center for International Energy (CIEL) found that these technologies are not only “ineffective, uneconomic and unsafe” but they also distract people from the only real solution of climate change: converting to renewable energy. Unsurprisingly, the American Petroleum Institute, the largest U.S. oil and gas trade lobby group, believes that “the future is bright” for carbon capture and storage.
Carroll Muffett, the chief executive at CIEL, cautions against the potential for these technologies to increase reliance on the fossil fuel industry:
“If on any reasonable examination of CCS, it costs massive amounts of money but doesn’t actually reduce emissions in any meaningful way, and further entrenches fossil fuel infrastructure, the question is: In what way is that contributing to the solution as opposed to diverting time and energy and resources away from the solutions that will work?”
A New Treatment For Arthritis: Vagus-Nerve Stimulation
Image Source: CDC
Later this year, SetPoint Medical, a bioelectronic medicine company, will release a preliminary report on Reset-RA, a trial that studies vagus nerve stimulation for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) treatment. This is the first large-scale study of nerve stimulation for an autoimmune disease. In particular, the vagus nerve, a key conduit of brain-body communication, is being examined.
Is the vagus nerve the key to drug-free treatment?
For decades, people with RA have suffered through pain and a steady dose of drugs. Recently, bioelectronic medicine (electroceuticals) has been utilized as a replacement for medications.
What makes these new trials special?
Electrical stimulation is not new. In 2016, Dr. Frieda Koopman led a 17-person trial that tested the effect of regulating electrical-signaling in the nervous system on inflammation and joint pain of RA patients. However, only a few patients in the trial had sustained success with the treatment.
Dr. Kevin Tracey, an expert in bioelectrical medicine and founder of SetPoint, says that the new trials by his company are different. Previously, neural circuits that impact diseased tissues were targeted. Now, what Tracey coined the “inflammatory reflex”, is being studied. This refers to the neural network that assists in regulating a human’s response to infection and injury.
By experimenting on rats, Tracey showed that vagus nerve stimulation could stop the release of immune-signaling molecules. Later, he connected this to signals that are sent down the spleen. Tracey founded SetPoint with the idea that this treatment could assist patients with RA and other autoimmune conditions.
Currently, a “cookie-sized pulse generator” is inserted into the chests of patients. A wire goes from this device, through the left side of the neck, to an electrode connected to the vagus nerve. Up to four times per day, the electrode gives a “gentle, one-minute buzz of stimulation.” Ideally, this device will be shrunk and designed to be inserted into the neck instead of the chest.
Targeting the vagus nerve could have potential downfalls. One of these is that shocking the nerve could have unwanted effects since it's central to many bodily processes.
Companies such as Alphabet, Galvani Bioelectronics, and SecondWave Systems are attempting to manufacture a technique that will provide a more targeted approach to neuromodulatory treatments.
Gene Civillico, a renowned neurotechnologist at Northeastern University, says:
“Controlling nervous tissue in a spatially and temporally precise way is going to be the way we cure or modify a lot of disease states,”
Follow RAISO (our parent org) on social media for more updates, discussions, and events!