The global race for the next wave of generative artificial intelligence (AI) has put major tech players like Microsoft and Google under the spotlight for a significant surge in their water consumption. A recent study by Shaolei Ren at the University of California, Riverside, revealed that AI models, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, have a considerable water footprint, with ChatGPT using 500 milliliters of water for every 10 to 50 prompts.
Ren and colleagues warned of the potential environmental roadblocks if the growing water footprint of AI models is not addressed. This issue extends to the water requirements of data centers, crucial for tech operations.
Microsoft reported a more than a third increase in global water consumption from 2021 to 2022, reaching 1.7 billion gallons. Google’s water usage in 2022 totaled 5.6 billion gallons, a 21% increase from the previous year.
Despite commitments to becoming “water positive” by the end of the decade, concerns arise with the launch of Microsoft’s Bing Chat and Google Bard, anticipating higher water usage.
Experts note the challenges in balancing AI’s efficiency gains with increased energy and resource consumption. Microsoft vows to invest in research measuring AI’s impact on energy, water, and carbon emissions, while Google focuses on reducing the carbon footprint of AI computing demand.
As the tech industry grapples with advancing AI and environmental responsibility, the emphasis on water consumption adds a crucial dimension to discussions on sustainable technology practices.