Artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionized numerous industries, but it comes at a cost. A recent study highlights the astonishing water consumption by tech giants Google, Microsoft, and Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) in their pursuit of AI advancement. In 2022 alone, these companies collectively drew over 2 billion cubic meters of freshwater for server cooling and electricity usage – a volume exceeding Denmark’s annual water withdrawal.
Cooling the AI Powerhouses
Developing and training natural language models, such as GPT (the underlying technology behind ChatGPT), requires immense computational power, which in turn demands substantial cooling of data-center servers. Even well-known AI systems like Bard (by Google) and Bing Chat (by Microsoft) contribute to this water-intensive process.
The Thirst of Data Centers
According to Ren and his colleagues’ estimate, training GPT-3 in Microsoft’s state-of-the-art U.S. data centers alone consumes a staggering total of 5.4 million liters of water over a span of two to four weeks. To put it into perspective, a simple conversation consisting of 10-50 questions and answers requires GPT-3 to “drink” the equivalent of a 500ml bottle of water (approximately 17 fluid ounces).
However, the numbers are expected to rise further with the advent of GPT-4, which reportedly boasts a significantly larger model size.
Water Consciousness and Pledges
Water scarcity has already become a pressing concern for Big Tech. Many of these companies have acknowledged the issue in their sustainability reports and pledged to be “water positive” by 2030, meaning they aim to replenish more water than they consume in direct operations. Microsoft, Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook), and Google are among those committed to water stewardship.
The study’s findings emphasize the urgent need for increased awareness and innovative solutions to mitigate the significant water footprint accompanying AI development and deployment. As artificial intelligence continues to evolve and transform various sectors, striking a balance between technological advancement and environmental sustainability becomes crucial.
Google’s Commitment to Responsible Water Use
Google has recently released its environmental report for 2022, highlighting its efforts to minimize water consumption at its data centers and offices. According to the report, a staggering 5.6 billion gallons of water were used, which is equivalent to the amount required to irrigate 37 golf courses annually in the southwestern United States.
In a blog post, Google dives deeper into its climate-conscious approach to cooling its data centers and emphasizes its dedication to championing responsible water use. The post reveals that each Google data center consumed an average of 450,000 gallons of water per day in 2021. To put this into perspective, that’s roughly the same amount needed to irrigate 17 acres of turf lawn grass or produce 160 pairs of jeans, including the cotton growth process.
As climate change continues to worsen water scarcity issues worldwide, Google remains steadfast in its commitment to invest in technologies that reduce energy and water consumption. The company recognizes the urgency of addressing this global problem and aims to play an active role in finding sustainable solutions.
In response to inquiries, Microsoft, Meta (parent company of Facebook), and OpenAI have not yet provided any comments on their water consumption practices.
Microsoft’s Approach to Water Consumption
Microsoft’s latest sustainability report reveals that the company consumed 6.4 million cubic meters of water, surpassing the previous year’s consumption by 1.7 million cubic meters. Microsoft acknowledges the importance of managing its water usage effectively and has outlined two strategies for achieving this: reducing water use intensity per megawatt of energy utilized and replenishing supplies in water-stressed regions where its operations are located.
Meta’s Water Usage and Commitment
Meta, commonly known as the parent company of Facebook, acknowledges that its data centers are responsible for a significant portion of its water consumption. In their sustainability report, Meta emphasizes the need to improve efficiency within their data centers due to their substantial energy use, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. The company recognizes that enhancing efficiency is crucial for maintaining net-zero operations and strives to achieve a net-zero value chain.
It is evident that technology giants like Google, Microsoft, and Meta are taking steps to address their water consumption challenges. These reports highlight the companies’ commitment to a sustainable future and serve as a reminder of the collective responsibility we all have toward mitigating the environmental impact of our digital infrastructure.