Digital technologies and services affect the planet. Every line of code, every photo uploaded to ‘the cloud’, and every smartphone, computer, or ‘IoT’ device, has an environmental footprint. That footprint often takes the form of carbon dioxide emissions, ecosystem degradation, and resource depletion, each of which occurs to varying degrees throughout the production, use, and end-of-life disposal or recycling of our digital technologies. With the carbon footprint of data centres alone now equalling—if not surpassing—that of the airline industry, it seems like we have reached a critical point in the design and use of our digital technologies that demands action on a global scale. To their credit, some of the world’s biggest technology companies and some governments have responded to aspects of these issues. But many have not.
In this talk, Vanessa will introduce how digital technologies affect the environment at every stage in their lifecycle. She links those effects to the things we do with our digital technologies, how we design them, and how our public policies influence the design, adoption, and end-of-life trajectory of our technologies. Vanessa will close the presentation by outlining some of the immediate and future challenges in this domain (e.g. resource scarcity, computing education, challenges related to data verification) and calling for increased engagement with these complex challenges.