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What is the resource footprint of a computer science department? Place, People and Pedagogy

Mian, I.S; Twisleton, D.; Timm, D.


Increasingly interconnected Internet and Communication Technology (ICT)/electrical and electronic equipment (EEE)-related products, processes, services and infrastructure are the bedrock of today's knowledge economy. This ecosystem of machine-to-machine and cyber-physical-system technologies has myriad direct and indirect impacts on the lithosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere. As key determinants of tomorrow's digital technologies, academic computer science departments worldwide are critical sites for exploring ways to mitigate and/or eliminate the negative impacts. We report the first case study to address the question "How do we create more resilient and healthier computer science departments: living laboratories for teaching and learning about resource-constrained computing, computation, and communication?" Specifically, we outline a roadmap and propose high-level principles to aid efforts at University College London Department of Computer Science. We focus on how, when and where resources -- energy, (raw) materials including water, space and time -- are consumed by the building (place), its occupants (people), and their activities (pedagogy). We describe the challenges and difficulties hindering our attempt to quantify the Department's resource footprint. Beyond this, we find a need to rematerialise the ICT/EEE ecosystem: to reveal the full costs of the seemingly intangible information society by, for example, undertaking analyses of end-user paraphernalia such as smartphones and servers across their entire life history and demonstrating the corporeal nature of terms such as Artificial Intelligence, the Cloud, social media, Big Data, and Smart Cities. We sketch routes to realising three interlinked aims: cap the power consumed and greenhouse gas emitted per person per year, become a zero waste institution, and rejuvenate and (re)integrate the natural and built environments. We propose two maxims to aid policy making and guideline preparation: resource use needs to be both minimised and minimal (reduced in relative as well as absolute terms), and responsible research and innovation encompasses not only decreasing the resource footprint of a research facility, organisation or project, but also considering non-technological solutions to complex real-world problems.

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