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Amazon emitted 18% more CO2 in 2021, blames growth • The Register

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Amazon increased its total carbon footprint by 18 percent during 2021, despite promises to transition entirely to renewable energy for its operations before the end of the decade.

In its defense, the cloud services giant said it has been working to increase efficiency, and still aims to hit net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

In Amazon’s 2021 Sustainability Report (available here), the megacorp details progress towards lessening its impact on the planet, but admits that its continual growth – especially in its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud division – is hampering efforts to decarbonize.

The company blamed COVID-19 on the shift, saying it had scaled its business at an unprecedented pace during the last two years to sell more stuff to customers during the pandemic. From early 2020 to the end of 2021, Amazon claims it doubled the size of its fulfilment network, and creating more than 750,000 full-time and part-time jobs worldwide.

The growing commercial scale means that Amazon was required to keep on building new facilities, both in the form of warehouses for its online consumer goods market and additional datacenter sites for AWS expansion.

In fact, AWS grew revenue 33 percent year-on-year to $19.73 billion during calendar Q2 of 2022, as disclosed in its recent financial figures for the quarter, with operating profit up more than 36 percent year-on-year to $5.7 billion.

Amazon’s reported carbon footprint data shows that it increased Scope 1 emissions from direct operations by 26 percent during 2021. However, its Scope 2 emissions from purchased electricity fell by 23 percent, likely due to its increased use of renewables.

The company’s Scope 3 emissions from indirect sources – such as the supply chain – rose 21 percent, of which 46 percent was accounted for by buildings construction, and purchased goods such as servers and other hardware.

However, Amazon said it remained focused on improving energy efficiency through various means, and despite all of the growth through 2021, its carbon intensity – the CO2 emissions produced per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed – decreased by 1.9 percent, marking the third year in a row this has improved. This is a line that Amazon has been pushing for a while now, and it claims that over time, continued decreases in carbon intensity can lead to lower absolute emissions.

AWS has spent considerable resources on boosting efficiency, the company said, and listed its rollout of Arm-based Graviton EC2 instances that are claimed to use up to 60 percent less energy for the same performance as one such measure.

According to Amazon, AWS has worked with suppliers to optimize the cooling medium used in its datacenter cooling systems, leading to a new medium with twice the service life that allows air to pass through more easily, saving fan energy. This is claimed to have reduced the energy use of cooling equipment by 20 percent.

Another step that the AWS team has taken to improve efficiency is changing its datacenter architecture to do away with a monolithic, centralized uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and instead integrate smaller battery packs and custom power supplies into the equipment racks. These changes allow its datacenters to reduce losses from energy conversion by about 35 percent, it claims.

AWS is also seeking to minimize water use in datacenters, and said it uses a method whereby outside air is cooled through an evaporative process and pushed into server rooms to keep hardware at stable operating temperatures. This approach means that even its largest data centers capacity will use on average about the same water in one year as 25 US households.

The company claims that it managed to reach a figure of 85 percent renewable energy for its entire operations during 2021, and is now on target to achieve its goal of becoming 100 percent renewable powered by 2025, which would be five years ahead of the original target it set itself.

Amazon said that while some of its actions and investments deliver immediate carbon savings, others will take years to bear fruit, and that “the path to net-zero carbon has many obstacles.”

Some of these obstacles include developing more sustainable transport infrastructure in its e-commerce business, decarbonizing the supply chain, and developing more sustainable ways of constructing buildings such as warehouses and datacenters.

For the latter, Amazon said it has invested in CarbonCure Technologies, a company that enables concrete production with a lower carbon footprint, and Brimstone Energy, which aims to make cement carbon neutral by using calcium silicate rocks. Meanwhile, its design standards for new US datacenters now require concrete with a 20 percent reduction in embodied carbon versus standard concrete, and Amazon said it will expand this requirement to the rest of the world.

In transport, the company said it plans to make half of its shipments net-zero in CO2 emissions by 2030 by creating a worldwide fleet of zero emission vehicles. It claims to have ordered at least 100,000 electric vehicles from manufacturers such as Rivian, but said it is being held back by a lack of charging infrastructure that does not yet exist at the scale needed by Amazon to serve customers.

Overall, Amazon believes it is making progress on sustainability, but as its VP for Worldwide Sustainability Kara Hurst writes in an introduction to the report, it recognizes it still has a great deal more to do.

“Our everyday actions to deliver progress are in service of achieving long-term, systemic change that improves the well-being of people, communities, and the planet,” she said. ®

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Iran reveals use of cryptocurrency to pay for imports • The Register

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Iran has announced it used cryptocurrency to pay for imports, raising the prospect that the nation is using digital assets to evade sanctions.

Trade minister Alireza Peyman Pak revealed the transaction with the tweet below, which translates as “This week, the first official import order was successfully placed with cryptocurrency worth ten million dollars. By the end of September, the use of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts will be widespread in foreign trade with target countries.”

It is unclear what Peman Pak referred to with his mention of widespread use of crypto for foreign trade, and the identity of the foreign countries he mentioned is also obscure.

But the intent of the announcement appears clear: Iran will use cryptocurrency to settle cross-border trades.

That’s very significant because Iran is subject to extensive sanctions aimed at preventing its ability to acquire nuclear weapons and reduce its ability to sponsor terrorism. Sanctions prevent the sale of many commodities and technologies to Iran, and financial institutions aren’t allowed to deal with their Iranian counterparts, who are mostly shunned around the world.

As explained in this advisory [PDF] issued by the US Treasury, Iran has developed numerous practices to evade sanctions, including payment offsetting schemes that let it sell oil in contravention of sanctions. Proceeds of such sales are alleged to have been funnelled to terrorist groups.

While cryptocurrency’s anonymity has been largely disproved, trades in digital assets aren’t regulated so sanctions enforcement will be more complex if Iran and its trading partners use crypto instead of fiat currencies.

Which perhaps adds more weight to the argument that cryptocurrency has few proven uses beyond speculative trading, making the ransomware industry possible, and helping authoritarian states like Iran and North Korea to acquire materiel for weapons.

Peyman Pak’s mention of “widespread” cross-border crypto deals, facilitated by automated smart contracts, therefore represents a challenge to those who monitor and enforce sanctions – and something new to worry about for the rest of us. ®



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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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Meta’s new AI chatbot can’t stop bashing Facebook | Meta

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If you’re worried that artificial intelligence is getting too smart, talking to Meta’s AI chatbot might make you feel better.

Launched on Friday, BlenderBot is a prototype of Meta’s conversational AI, which, according to Facebook’s parent company, can converse on nearly any topic. On the demo website, members of the public are invited to chat with the tool and share feedback with developers. The results thus far, writers at Buzzfeed and Vice have pointed out, have been rather interesting.

Asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the bot told BuzzFeed’s Max Woolf that “he is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!”

The bot has also made clear that it’s not a Facebook user, telling Vice’s Janus Rose that it had deleted its account after learning about the company’s privacy scandals. “Since deleting Facebook my life has been much better,” it said.

The bot repeats material it finds on the internet, and it’s very transparent about this: you can click on its responses to learn where it picked up whatever claims it is making (though it is not always specific).

This means that along with uncomfortable truths about its parent company, BlenderBot has been spouting predictable falsehoods. In conversation with Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, it insisted Donald Trump was still president and would continue to be “even after his second term ends in 2024”. (It added another dig at Meta, saying Facebook “has a lot of fake news on it these days”.) Users have also recorded it making antisemitic claims.

BlenderBot’s remarks were foreseeable based on the behavior of older chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay, which Twitter users quickly taught to be a racist conspiracy theorist, forcing the company to apologize for its “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images”. GPT-3, another AI system, has also delivered racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. A South Korean startup’s chatbot, designed to resemble a 20-year-old college student, had to be suspended after it rattled off racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks.

Given the cesspool that is the internet, Meta appears to have expected similar things from its own service. Before logging on, users must acknowledge that BlenderBot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements”. As Vice notes, Meta researchers have described the AI tech behind the bot as having “a high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”.

“Everyone who uses Blender Bot is required to acknowledge they understand it’s for research and entertainment purposes only, that it can make untrue or offensive statements, and that they agree to not intentionally trigger the bot to make offensive statements,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

My own conversation with BlenderBot did not veer into that territory, but it did highlight another flaw in the service: its utter inanity.

The bot began by asking me what subject I liked in school. The bot is open about which “persona” it is using in the conversation; our discussion involved a persona it described as “I like to read. I went to college.” When I asked it tough questions, such as which colleges accepted AI bot students, it offered nonsensical replies (“in some ways, aren’t we all chatbots?” No) and offered further reading by saying, “Here’s the link”, without providing a link. It also kept steering the conversation back to chatbots.

It did, however, maintain its firm stance against its own creators. When I said I wasn’t a fan of Facebook’s ethics, it wholeheartedly agreed: “Me too! That is why I stopped using it and just stick with reading books instead.”



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