Backlight: The Cost of AI

Generative AI is the latest buzzword in Silicon Valley. But what is hidden behind the shining promise of Artificial Intelligence? More...

Documentary - Science & Technology, Current Affairs & Politics


What is hidden behind the shining promise of Artificial Intelligence? VPRO Backlight shows the reality behind the smokescreen that Silicon Valley presents us, speaks with people who are engaged in dissecting the global AI industry and uses the possibilities of the latest AI products to depict the places and people that Big Tech would rather not be visible.

Generative AI is the latest buzzword in Silicon Valley. The Big Tech giants all launch chatbots and incorporate AI assistants, based on large-scale language models, into their products. The credo is: we are building the most powerful technology since the invention of electricity, and it is about to change everything. And all this happens in 'The Cloud'.

Are we once again blinded by the shine of Silicon Valley and the promise of artificial intelligence? The recent success of AI comes with the use of even more raw materials, even more data, even more computing power and even larger server parks. If you zoom out, AI is a hungry beast that needs to be fed with the fastest chips, huge data sets and poorly paid labour. In the form of silicon mines, endless rows of power-guzzling servers or Syrians labeling data for the next generation of generative AI. AI turns out not to be a divine machine, but an industry that costs blood, sweat and metals. A system of extraction and exploitation on an industrial scale with major consequences for the earth and humanity .


  • Media scientist Vladan Joler, 'critical cartographer', mapping the AI-driven world behind our screens at the Serbian University of Novi Sad;
  • Sociologist and computer scientist Milagros Miceli, who conducts field research at the Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin into the working conditions of data labelers in low-wage countries;
  • Cognitive scientist Abeba Birhane, who examines the huge datasets used to train AI at Trinity College in Dublin;
  • Economist Tamay Besiroglu, who charts the limits to the growth of AI at MIT.

Marije Meerman

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