AI chatbots such as ChatGPT, Google Bard and Bing Chat put their companies’ water consumption through the roof. University of California researcher Shaolei Rein found that a conversation of 5 to 50 prompts with a chatbot claims 500 milliliters of water.
Microsoft reported in its own 2022 Environmental Sustainability Report that the company consumed 34 percent more water than it did in the year before. Overall, consumption came to nearly 6.5 billion gallons. According to Ren, most of this increase is due to AI, specifically the additional demands of OpenAI’s technology. The water is used to cool the hardware that makes the AI calculations. A single Nvidia A100 chip consumes 300W, while several work together to handle each generative AI workload.
“Most people are not aware of the resource consumption underlying ChatGPT. If you are not aware of the consumption, then there is no way to conserve these resources,” Ren believes.
Not only Microsoft and OpenAI are using water cooling much more. Consumption has also increased significantly at Google: in Iowa, where OpenAI is also a big user, but also in Las Vegas, where it doubled from 2021.
Both Google and OpenAI told Associated Press they are working hard to be more sustainable. Microsoft says it wants to produce more net water than it takes away by 2030, in addition to overcompensating for CO2 emissions.
The fact that the data is from 2022 gives cause for concern. After all, the AI hype only emerged late last year, after which numerous generative AI solutions were launched over the past nine months. Next year’s reports therefore likely won’t make for all too pleasant reading. As a small bright spot in terms of consumption, ChatGPT’s usage dropped over the past three months. However, this could be temporary, now that schoolchildren can once again use the chatbot en masse as a homework helper.
Still, companies will increasingly use AI tools, now that there is more certainty around the privacy and compliance requirements that AI solutions offer. For example, OpenAI recently came out with ChatGPT Enterprise, which should keep corporate data secure.