The next AI problem: It uses too much water

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Complaints about the rapidly advancing state of Artificial Intelligence technology are not hard to find, and I’ve raised more than a few of them myself. The issues range from concerns that AI will be taking people’s jobs and ruining educational systems because of cheating to armies of robots bent on destroying their human creators before we can pull the plug. But another one surfaced recently that really hadn’t been on my radar. Rapidly growing AI systems like ChatGPT require ever larger server farms to keep processing all of that data at previously unimaginable speeds. And those server farms are drawing a ton of power from the grid while generating huge amounts of heat. So the buildings must be cooled more and more aggressively to prevent the system from literally melting down. And that takes water. Lots of it. So that’s the latest complaint being lodged. Artificial Intelligence is using up our freshwater supplies far too quickly when they are needed elsewhere. (Associated Press)

The cost of building an artificial intelligence product like ChatGPT can be hard to measure.

But one thing Microsoft-backed OpenAI needed for its technology was plenty of water, pulled from the watershed of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers in central Iowa to cool a powerful supercomputer as it helped teach its AI systems how to mimic human writing.

As they race to capitalize on a craze for generative AI, leading tech developers including Microsoft, OpenAI and Google have acknowledged that growing demand for their AI tools carries hefty costs, from expensive semiconductors to an increase in water consumption.

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