The Environmental Impact of AI: Unveiling the Hidden Water Cost

Artificial intelligence (AI), an ever-evolving technology, continues to shape our modern world. Highly sophisticated language models like ChatGPT and Bing AI are being utilized by thousands of users globally on a daily basis. However, the true nature of these AI services involves a significant behind-the-scenes cost in terms of computing resources and environmental impact.

The development of AI, such as Microsoft-supported ChatGPT by OpenAI, necessitates the use of copious amounts of electricity and water for cooling the supercomputers it operates on. This particular supercomputer in Iowa draws water from the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers, which serve as crucial sources of drinking water in the region.

In a recent environmental report, Microsoft revealed a 34 percent increase in global water consumption between 2021 and 2022, largely attributed to its AI research. Shaolei Ren, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside, highlights that the majority of this growth is directly linked to AI, including Microsoft’s investment in generative AI and partnership with OpenAI.

Microsoft and OpenAI are not the sole contributors to increased water usage in AI research. Google, another leading player in the field, reported a 20 percent surge in water consumption between 2021 and 2022, which can be attributed to its AI-related endeavors.

While both Microsoft and OpenAI affirm their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint and water consumption, specific details regarding their AI operations remain undisclosed. Nevertheless, researchers have attempted to estimate the water consumption of ChatGPT, approximating that it utilizes around 0.5 liters of water for every 5 to 50 queries.

It is imperative for technology giants and AI developers to acknowledge and address the environmental implications of their advancements. Finding sustainable solutions and implementing responsible practices should be at the core of AI research and development.


Q: Why do AI services consume water?
A: AI services, like ChatGPT, require vast computing resources, which generate heat that needs to be cooled using water.

Q: How much has Microsoft’s water consumption increased due to AI research?
A: Microsoft’s global water consumption rose by 34 percent from 2021 to 2022, with AI playing a significant role in this increase.

Q: Is Microsoft the only tech company using water for AI research?
A: No, Google also reported a 20 percent increase in water usage from 2021 to 2022, largely attributed to its AI-related work.

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