AI Water Consumption Is Getting Out of Hand

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How much water does artificial intelligence (AI) use? Is the water consumption manageable, or is it contributing to a crisis?

AI systems like ChatGPT are consuming massive amounts of water, straining already stressed water resources. Some experts warn that continued, unfettered AI water use will fuel global water scarcity problems—which are already on track to reach crisis levels by 2030.

Here’s a look at AI water consumption, and the possible outcomes.

AI Water Consumption Is Rising

In 2022, ChatGPT guzzled enough water to fill over 2,500 Olympic swimming pools—roughly one 16-ounce bottle of water for every 5 to 50 queries from each of its 100 million users. The exponential AI water consumption highlights Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems’ alarming thirst and has sparked debate over curbing the technology’s use before it drains limited reserves. 

Why AI Uses Water

AI systems like ChatGPT require vast amounts of computing power to analyze human language patterns and generate coherent text. This intensive process generates enormous heat that must be dissipated to prevent computer shutdowns. Data centers—the physical facilities that house servers and storage that underpin ChatGPT and other chatbots—frequently use water cooling systems to regulate temperatures. Water is the cheapest way to cool servers.  

How Much Water Are AI Systems Using?

Historically, tech firms have declined to share details about their water consumption in individual centers, citing these data as trade secrets. However, companies like Microsoft and Google have begun sharing information about their water use recently.

View 1: AI Water Consumption Is a Problem

Environmental researchers and advocacy groups argue that excessive AI water use strains local communities’ drinking water supply. Left unchecked, AI’s growing water consumption will worsen stress on municipalities, agriculture, and other industries already grappling with drought and limited water supplies. This will exacerbate global water scarcity issues, which are projected to reach crisis levels by 2030

View 2: AI Water Consumption Issues Are Manageable

AI companies including Microsoft, Google, and OpenAI, acknowledge that they’re using large amounts of water but frame the issue as a solvable challenge. Efforts they say they’ve initiated and are exploring to mitigate the problem include:

Looking Ahead

Some experts express concern that AI companies’ efforts to mitigate their excessive water use will be inadequate to meet the challenges of the future given current growth. They argue that water replenishment efforts aren’t a sustainable solution if total consumption continues to rise exponentially, and that efficiency gains won’t be able to keep pace indefinitely. The rapid growth in demand for computer power, driven by AI, is a significant concern, doubling every 100 days and projected to increase more than a millionfold in the next five years with no sign of slowing. If unfettered AI expansion remains a top priority, negative environmental impacts are virtually unavoidable.

AI Water Consumption Is Getting Out of Hand

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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