Waste is something of a proposition in modern economics, and big technology is no exception. Google recently released its 2023 environmental report, shedding some light on the company’s water consumption, but a more aggressive foray into artificial intelligence could make matters worse.
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The company said in a report released Monday that its data centers and offices consumed 5.6 billion gallons of water in 2022, including for cooling facilities. That’s the equivalent of irrigating an average of 37 golf courses, according to a 2012 estimate from the United States Golf Association cited by Google. As Insider points out, this is a 20% increase from his 4.3 billion gallons of water consumption in 2021. Shaolei Ren, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Riverside, told the outlet that his 20% increase is roughly equivalent to his increase in Google’s computing power due to its push toward AI.
After the release of OpenAIs ChatGPT in November 2022, big tech companies felt the pressure of the AI giants and began urgently developing their own artificial intelligence chatbots to market. Google announced in August 2022 his AI chatbot called LaMDAshort, which represents a language model for conversational applications. Google exposed his LaMDA through the AI Test Kitchen app, allowing ordinary users to interact with his LaMDA only through a series of structured scenarios, gradually rolling back the guardrails as the test continues.
AI is notoriously energy intensive, requiring large amounts of water to cool the data centers and server farms that serve as the brains of the program. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside (including Wren) and the University of Texas at Arlington recently discovered that ChatGPT-3 training alone requires about 185,000 gallons of water, enough to fill a reactor cooling tower. Researchers also found that the average conversation with ChatGPT is equivalent to throwing a bottle of water on the floor. Throughout 2022, he began to see more viewers for LaMDA, which may have caused Google to need more water to cool its servers.
[The increase in water consumption] This is due to business growth and matches other activity-based data, Google spokeswoman Chrissie Lee told Gizmodo in an email. We sought to address the impact of water consumption through a climate-friendly data center cooling approach and a water management strategy that included a 120% replenishment target.
Update July 25, 10:15 AM EST: This article has been updated to include a quote from a Google spokesperson.
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