AI's growing thirst: rising water consumption in data centres sparks environmental concerns – Proactive Investors UK

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Ephrem began his journalistic journey at Proactive in June 2021. With a strong academic background in Information Technology, his expertise particularly lies in the field of Cyber Security, Management Information Systems and Computer Forensics. Before joining Proactive, Ephrem worked as a researcher and lecturer at a number of leading universities, including the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, the University of Winchester’s Institute of Policing, and Jain… Read more
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Last updated: 05:14 12 Sep 2023 BST, First published: 04:46 12 Sep 2023 BST
As artificial intelligence (AI) systems such as ChatGPT continue to grow, so does their appetite for water—a vital resource for cooling data centres.
Recent reports indicate a spike in water consumption by tech giants Microsoft and Google, triggering alarms among environmentalists and experts.
Microsoft president Brad Smith acknowledged the role of Iowa’s natural resources in AI development, stating: “It (GPT-4) was made by these extraordinary engineers in California, but it was really made in Iowa.”
Leading companies in AI technology Microsoft and Google reported a 34% and 20% increase in water consumption respectively from 2021 to 2022.
Combined, this represents an additional 1.7 billion gallons of water.
In addition, a recent report by the Associated Press further revealed that AI platforms such as ChatGPT contributed to data centres using around 500 millilitres of water for every set of 5 to 50 user queries.
The rapid rise has garnered attention, with some experts cautioning about the environmental implications of such growth.
The ramifications are already being felt at the local level. According to an April 2022 Axios report, “Residential rates at Des Moines Water Works have increased nearly 80% since 2007, now at US$5.19 per 1,000 gallons for those who live within the city.”
This points to the unintended consequences of technological advancement, highlighting the need for more sustainable practices in the AI sector.
While Microsoft and Google have pledged to reduce their environmental footprint, the ongoing growth of AI systems remains a concern for the responsible usage of natural resources.
Therefore, the industry faces a pressing need to balance technological progress with ecological sustainability.
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