How often should I water my data center?
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Most of the time when we talk about the environmental impact of generative AI, it is the CO2 impact of running the data centers that process our prompts and answers. We also know that building and using AI solutions are much more computer intensive and resource intensive than the standard internet search. It turns out that Microsoft and Google have both increased their water consumption by 34% and 20%, respectively, from 2021 to 2022 driven by their need to cool their data centers, following the explosion of generative AI.
Researchers tie this increase in water consumption to the growth of AI research and development from companies across the tech space. Microsoft has been building data centers in Iowa for the supercomputers that have the explicit purpose of training OpenAI’s models. In July 2022, Microsoft used 11.5 million gallons of water in the Iowa data centers, approximately 6% of all the water used in that water district. According to the New York Times, America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There’s No Tomorrow, which truly makes us wonder if this is a sustainable approach to cooling.
It is important that the tech companies that run data centers and host compute for other tech companies to build models evaluate their resource consumption and their impact on the global and local environment. These companies should also evaluate the impact of building data centers in different environments, even if we are sacrificing a little bit of speed. The data center in Iowa uses a lot of water, clearly, but most of the year it can be cooled by the cold Iowa air that is the norm there. In contrast, Microsoft’s data centers in Arizona don’t have that option and the cooling factor will need to come from water or another resource intensive solution. I don’t think we’ll be solving the resource consumption problem any time soon as models continue to grow and we ask for more in terms of speed and performance, but it’s pertinent to remind ourselves what the actual cost of ChatGPT’s email blurb suggestion really costs.
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The Tidbit: A who’s who of the tech world were in Washington D.C. last week to continue the conversation around the regulation of AI in the US. Elon Musk thinks that AI is a threat to humanity while Bill Gates thinks we can use it to help end world hunger. It will be interesting to see where the discussion around regulation leads with such a complex and broad topic.
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