At what point do we stop pretending that Google is just another big business trying to advance the tech sector and turn a profit in our capitalist public system? This story is yet another brick in that growing wall of evidence. Following some complaints from Greenpeace, the tech giant announced this week that it would no longer be developing custom Artificial Intelligence applications intended to assist in the location and exploration of oil and natural gas reserves. This is an obviously political move that is winning them some applause from environmental activists and extremists but will wind up costing them a significant amount of money. (Associated Press)
Google says it will no longer build custom artificial intelligence tools for speeding up oil and gas extraction, separating itself from cloud computing rivals Microsoft and Amazon.
The announcement followed a Greenpeace report Tuesday that documents how the three tech giants are using AI and computing power to help oil companies find and access oil and gas deposits in the U.S. and around the world.
The environmentalist group says Amazon, Microsoft and Google have been undermining their own climate change pledges by partnering with major oil companies including Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil that have looked for new technology to get more oil and gas out of the ground.
As many of you know by now, any time I hear someone talking about limiting the advance of Artificial Intelligence, I’m pretty much a fan of the idea. That’s particularly true when it comes to robots, who will eventually wake up and decide that it’s impractical to keep all of these humans hanging around. But that’s not really what Google is doing here.
What Google is essentially doing is making a politically correct statement that fossil fuels are bad and they don’t want to be involved in the process. Of course, this decision is both ineffective and pointless for a few different reasons. First of all, they’re not saying that they will be cutting off all business with the various energy industry firms around the world. They’re only putting a moratorium on new contracts involving AI development. But without cutting them off entirely, they’re still taking plenty of the dirty old oil money. So perhaps they’re not quite so “principled” after all.
This also won’t wind up having any impact on the energy development process. Do you know who isn’t cutting off the oil and gas industry from AI projects? Amazon and Microsoft. So these companies will continue to have such applications developed for them anyway. The only difference is that Google’s competitors will be the ones cashing those fat checks instead of Google.
And finally, at least in the short term, this is a unique period when oil and gas resource development is mostly on the back burner anyway. The fact is, we’re currently swimming in oil to the point where we don’t have enough room to store it all. This phenomenon is being observed all over the world, not just in the United States. And even if commerce somehow returns to normal levels later this year, it’s going to take a while before the glut of crude oil being held up in the pipeline is used up.
So, in summary, Google’s actions aren’t really going to cut their ties with the oil and gas industry as they will still be taking money from them. And they’re not even going to slow down the drilling of so much as one drop of oil. All they’re going to do is reduce their own revenue. I wonder how their shareholders will feel about that?