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Towards Resource Responsible Trustworthy Autonomous Systems

As the Internet expands through paradigms like Internet of Things devices, multi-player gaming, videotelephony and the Metaverse, autonomous systems are increasingly necessitated to mediate society’s unfettered dataflows.

Due to their perceived immateriality, autonomous systems built on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are often promoted as resource efficient technologies which help mitigate the unsustainable impacts of the Internet’s rapidly expanding data-driven ecosystem. Yet because of their ubiquity and scale, the environmental impacts of hyperscale autonomous systems are intensifying and their sustainable trustworthiness frequently undermined.

These systems can themselves be extremely energy hungry and create huge amounts of CO2 emissions. Subsequently, they contribute to digital technology’s growing global carbon footprint which is currently around 4% of worldwide emissions.

Funded by the UKRI EPSRC TAS Hub, the InterNET ZERO project will aim to help tackle the environmental, social and technical challenges being presented by autonomous Internet technologies by transforming academic knowledge into practice.

To do so, the 15-month project will draw upon expertise and techniques from across the disciplines of Design, Computing and Science & Technology Studies including speculative design, co-design, human-data interaction and critical infrastructure policy methods.

The research team comprises Imagination colleagues Dr Michael Stead, Professor Paul Coulton, and Franziska Pilling, Dr Neelima Sailaja, Professor Andy Crabtree,and Professor Derek McAuley from the University of Nottingham’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Centre, and Dr Ola Michalec from the University of Bristol’s Cybersecurity Group.

AI and Machine Learning are making more of the key decisions regards the Internet’s energy use and emissions, with less human oversight. There is consequently a growing argument that if society is to successfully transition to a digital Net Zero future, we should start to consider these technologies as key mediators that must be actively negotiated with, in the same way that we work to build trust between one another” says Dr Stead.

To explore these issues, the research team will collaborate with cross-sector partners Energy Systems Catapult, Blackburn’s digital fabrication lab The Making Rooms, and climate data cooperative Subak.

Together, they will run a programme of work that will engage with a range of stakeholders – including technologists, policymakers, and citizens – to rethink current autonomous system design and co-create new visions and pathways for more resource responsible and trustworthy Internet infrastructures.

Focussing on disruptive decentralisation, the team will explore the potential benefits of adopting hyperlocal autonomous systems solutions like Community Clouds, Edge Computing and micro-renewables.

Senior Digital and Data Consultant at Energy Systems Catapult, Greg Johnston will work with the research team.

He said: “The InterNET Zero project provides us with a fantastic opportunity to focus on how the decentralisation of digital systems and energy can have impact for communities across the UK. The work will explore how autonomous systems are trusted, explained, and held accountable as they perform a larger role in society.”

The project will run until June 2024.

Keep updated on the project: @InterNETZERO_