Popular Science Names Mohammad Hajiesmaili One of Its Ten Most Brilliant Academics for His Work on Decarbonizing Computing

Mohammad Hajiesmaili, professor of information and computer sciences at UMass Amherst, has been named one of Popular Science’s Brilliant 10. The recognition, which annually goes to 10 early career researchers in the U.S., honors Hajiesmaili’s pioneering work on substantially reducing computing’s carbon footprint.

NEWS Mohammad Hajiesmaili
Mohammad Hajiesmaili

Chosen from among hundreds of candidates from institutions across the U.S., Hajiesmaili points to a central paradox in the attempt to reign in the greenhouse-gas emissions from the computing world.

“Over the past two decades,” Hajiesmaili says, “the growth of the computing sector has been exponential, yet its energy use has grown far more slowly.” Normally a cause for celebration, the very success of energy-efficient optimization means that there’s little left to improve on the efficiency front. “Computing is about as energy-efficient as it is going to get,” says Hajiesmaili. This is concerning because the expansion of computing shows no sign of slowing down, and so we’re entering a new phase of energy usage: the computing industry’s energy usage is starting to grow exponentially along with the growth of the industry.

Indeed, computing worldwide currently uses more energy than the entire U.K., and, according to some estimates, 20% of the entire world’s electricity use will go to our computers by 2030.    

“What we need to do,” says Hajiesmaili, “is redesign computing not around energy efficiency, but flexible, carbon-intelligent computing.”

To illustrate what he means, Hajiesmaili draws a distinction between the way most of us use our computers—to read this story, say—which uses comparatively little energy, and the enormous and complex tasks happening all the time in the computing backgrounds that most of us rarely notice: the vast software updates, video and image processing, data-crunching, etc. “When you check your email, you need energy on-demand,” says Hajiesmaili, “but many of these much more energy-intensive tasks don’t have the same urgency” These tasks can occur at times when renewable energy is most abundant: when it’s sunny, or windy.

And if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow? “We can take the computing tasks to the places where there is abundant carbon-free energy,” says Hajiesmaili.

“Putting carbon use at the forefront of how we manage our troves of data is an essential step along the path to a carbon-neutral future,” says Popular Science editor-in-chief Corrine Iozzio, “We’re excited to see how Hajiesmaili’s models and research could help reshape the footprint of many industries.”

“There’s a phrase that rings loudly in the heads of Popular Science editors any time we bring together a new Brilliant 10 class: ‘They’ve only just begun.’”

For Hajiesmaili, the future is helping to ensure that carbon intelligent computing becomes a first-class design value.