AI-chatbots like ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Bing Chat are quite thirsty in their water consumption. University of California researcher Shaolei Ren discovered that a conversation of 5 to 50 prompts with a chatbot can quickly require 500 milliliters of water.
Microsoft reported in its own 2022 Environmental Sustainability Report that the company consumed 34 percent more water than the previous year, totaling nearly 6.5 billion liters. According to Ren, the majority of this increase is attributed to AI, specifically the additional demands imposed by OpenAI’s technology. Water is used to cool the hardware that performs AI calculations. A single Nvidia A100 chip consumes 300W, and multiple chips collaborate to process each generative AI workload.
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“Most people are not aware of the resource consumption behind ChatGPT. If you’re not aware of the consumption, there’s no way to conserve these resources,” Ren believes.
Google is also not exempt from significantly increased water consumption, just like Microsoft and OpenAI. Consumption has risen notably in Iowa, where OpenAI is also a major user, as well as in Las Vegas, where it doubled compared to 2021.
Both Google and OpenAI told the Associated Press that they are working hard to be more sustainable with their resources. Microsoft aims to produce more water than it consumes by 2030, in addition to overcompensating for its CO2 emissions.
The fact that the data is from 2022 is cause for concern. The AI hype only emerged at the end of last year, followed by numerous generative AI solutions launched this year. This could lead to alarming figures when the next reports arrive. As a small silver lining in terms of consumption, there has been a decrease in the popularity of ChatGPT in recent months. However, this could be temporary as students may start using the chatbot extensively again as a homework aid.
Nevertheless, companies are increasingly adopting AI tools, now that there is more certainty around the privacy and compliance requirements that AI solutions offer. OpenAI recently introduced ChatGPT Enterprise, designed to keep business data secure.