SHADE Newsletter 4th April 2024

Welcome to the tenth edition of the SHADE newsletter! 

SHADE is a research hub with a mission to explore issues at the intersection of digital technologies/AI, health and the environment. It is guided by a fundamental question: How should the balance between AI/digital enabled health and planetary health be struck in different areas of the world, and what should be the guiding principles?

The SHADE newsletter comes out every two weeks, bringing you a selection of the latest news, upcoming events, academic publications and podcasts in the SHADE space.

In this newsletter, we highlight the ongoing challenges in making digital health environmentally aware. We take a sweep through developments in data centres and the cloud, check in on health accoustics, call out the Economist, ask if AI is iatrogenic and much more.  We hope you enjoy it!

Please tell us what you like, what you don’t like and what you think is missing at [email protected]  

Highlight on the ongoing failure to consider environmental sustainability in digital health

  • A scoping review looking at what is available in health technology assessments for considering environmental impacts concludes that there are no tools fit for widespread use. It notes that existing methods may be prone to greenwashing. Another study focussing on what’s available for medical leaders comes to a similar conclusion, also noting the dangers of greenwashing in the vacuum created and the over dominance of market considerations.

  • These papers perhaps explain why this week’s Economist can devote ten pages to the promise of AI in healthcare with no mention of the environmental concerns surrounding this, and why its accompanying leader, asking what’s holding up the AI health revolution, can acknowledge the importance of regulation around efficacy and patient safety, but not mention regulation around environmental sustainability.


  • As Google AI breaks new ground in health accoustics, the “massive data set” of human sounds used in training their foundational model is highlighted. This comes as the CEO of Nvidia proclaims data centres as the new “AI factories” and reveals the latest AI super chip to boost production in the factories. The rapidly escalating energy demands, and hence rises in carbon emissions, from these factories are addressed, to a very limited extent, by a new emissions reporting scheme for European data centres.

  • Digital Twins are in the news - this time Earth twins based on AI foundation models. In the short term these could support the adaptation of existing healthcare infrastructures to climate change. Longer term they could even facilitate the testing of new infrastructures. The article notes that such twins will require substantial computing to generate training data and for training itself, but concludes that the energy needs of large pre-trained models will be offset by the “low power requirements” of their use in comparison with the alternative of “probably too many expensive numerical simulations”. It will be interesting to see how this offsetting works out in practice.

What we’re listening to

What we’re reading



And finally, check out this cartography which maps out the extractions, agencies and resources that enable generative AI.

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