(Closed) Call for Applications: Environmental Impact of Data-Driven Technologies Workshop

This application is closed as of August 16, 2018. 

On November 2, 2018, Data & Society will host a workshop in NYC on the environmental impact of data-driven technologies. The purpose of the Data & Society Workshop series is to enable deep dives with a broad community of interdisciplinary researchers into topics at the core of Data & Society’s concerns.

The structure of the Data & Society Workshop is designed to maximize scholarly thinking about the evolving and societally important issues surrounding data-driven technologies.  Participants will be asked to read three full papers in advance of the event and prepare comments for intensive discussion. Some participants will be asked to be discussants of papers, where they will lead the conversation and engage the room. Authors will not present their work, but rather participate in critical discussion with the assembled group about the paper, with explicit intent of making the work stronger and more interdisciplinary.

Participation in this event is limited. Those who are interested in participating should apply by AUGUST 16.

Environmental Impact of Data-Driven Technologies

By the end of 2018, Bitcoin will consume .05% of the world’s energy per year. This is equivalent to the energy consumption of Denmark. Major tech companies are working hard to make cloud services more energy efficient, but server farms still require tremendous power and water to function. Additionally, other parts of the “stack” (e.g., software development, usage patterns) do not take environmental impact into consideration. Likewise, financiers obsessed with blockchain and 5G are often ignoring the environmental impact of the proliferation of these new technologies. While some IoT chipmakers are competing on energy efficiency, cheap production still dominates that conversation at a moment in which data-oriented tech is being introduced into everything.

On the user end, people are streaming a billion hours of YouTube videos every day and loading countless hours of videos and images into online backup services where they are likely to be watched/viewed by humans only a handful of times. Gmail has normalized the idea that everyone should archive email in perpetuity, which means that Facebook notices indicating you have a new message that you received in 2007 are still using up energy.

Apple has been called out for slowing down its operating system when battery life declines to make the user experience more seamless, which, in effect, encourages users to buy more equipment. Yet, the environmental cost of new hardware is piling up – quite literally. Users of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure are encouraged to spin up new machines when they are working with data; they experience no visceral understanding of the environmental impact of their decisions. Likewise, even though most older computer scientists obsessed over runtime efficiency of their algorithms, few who grab code from Github give much thought to the environmental cost of their inefficient code.

Much work is still needed to understand the environmental cost of technology. The purpose of this workshop is to bring together researchers who are examining these issues from different disciplinary and analytic perspectives. Relevant topics for this workshop might include:

  • What is the environmental cost of blockchain, 5G, AI, and other hyped technologies?
  • How do design concerns at different parts of the “stack” affect the environmental impact of whole systems?
  • What would an environmental audit of artificial intelligence look like?
  • How do/might software engineers or other practitioners integrate climate concerns into their practice?
  • What is the relationship between privacy and energy-sensitive code?
  • How do data centers affect water policies in different countries?
  • How can decentralized engineering practices be made more environmentally responsible?

Participation requirements

All participants are required to read three papers in advance of the event and come ready to offer constructively critical feedback. We want researchers from different intellectual traditions to spar with and challenge one another to strengthen ourselves across the board. This is not an event for passive attendance, but an opportunity to engage each other substantively and from cross-disciplinary perspectives.

A subset of participants will workshop papers they have written. This is a fantastic venue for workshopping a paper. If you have an appropriate paper in-progress, you are strongly encouraged to submit it for consideration. Drafts of journal articles, conference papers, law review papers, and book chapters are all welcome.  Papers are expected to be at draft stage with room for improvement; the goal of this event is not to present largely finished work but to truly workshop work-in-progress.

For this event, we are looking to bring together researchers from diverse disciplines ranging from computer science to law, economics to history, and anthropology to media studies. As a result, attendees should expect to engage with scholars who are outside of their field.

We ask that attendees think of the Data & Society Workshop series as an opportunity to engage across fields, and to strengthen both relationships and research through participation in the workshop. While we see this as valuable for individual authors, we also see this as a field-building exercise that we hope will be valuable for all involved.


The day will be organized into three time slots, each 75 minutes long. One paper will be workshopped in each session. Multiple sessions will run in parallel so there will be a total of 9-12 papers, but each participant will only be responsible for 3. Within each group, a discussant will open with a critique of the paper before inviting participants to share their feedback. (If you participate in this event and are not an author, you may be asked to be a discussant.) All are expected to share feedback, with author response towards the end of the session.


The event will take place at Data & Society in NYC on November 2, 2018 and will run from 8:45 to 6pm.  Paper sessions will run until 4pm; afterwards, there will be a reception for all participants.

There is limited travel support for our out-of-town guests. If you are in need of travel support, please let us know. We will not be able to accommodate all travel needs so if you have grants or other means of covering your participation, please use that so that we can prioritize funding for those who have none.

Application to participate

If you are interested in attending this Workshop, you may either 1) propose a paper to be workshopped; or 2) describe how your research makes you a relevant discussant/participant.

Please note: All co-authors who are intending to attend must apply separately. They should submit the same paper abstract. If your paper is accepted, you will be allowed to send 2 authors. Additional authors will be considered as discussants/participants. 

By August 16, please submit the following information via this Submittable portal:

  1. Name, email address, affiliation, title, discipline.
  2. Bio and headshot (used for the program if accepted).
  3. If applying as an author, a 1-page (max) abstract of a paper you’d like to workshop.
  4. If applying as a participant/discussant, a 1-page (max) discussion of your interests as it relates to this topic.
  5. Bibliographic citations / links to 3 papers (yours or others) that everyone interested in this domain should read. [Optional]
  6. If travel support is necessary for your attendance, please indicate this in your application. Unfortunately, we will not be able to accommodate everyone’s needs.

Important Dates:

  • Application Deadline: August 16, 2018
  • Selection Decisions: August 25, 2018
  • Full Paper Deadline: October 12, 2018
  • Workshop: November 2, 2018