The state of Iowa, known for its vast corn fields and bucolic landscapes, has become an unexpected setting for a crucial chapter in the history of artificial intelligence (AI). Iowa is home to an essential part of the technological fabric that supports AI giants such as Microsoft and OpenAI. But Iowa's leading role is not due to its idyllic landscape, but to its water.
Developing and training AI models, like OpenAI's flagship GPT-4, requires a staggering amount of processing power, and with it, a lot of water to keep supercomputers at an adequate temperature. In the case of Microsoft and OpenAI, this water comes from the Raccoon and Des Moines river basins, located in the heart of Iowa.
Microsoft's environmental report revealed a 34% increase in its water consumption between 2021 and 2022, reaching almost 1.7 billion gallons, which is equivalent to more than 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This significant increase is primarily attributed to its investment in generative AI and its collaboration with OpenAI. Google also reported a 20% increase in water usage during the same period, largely due to its AI-related projects.
ChatGPT and its Thirst for Resources in Iowa
Experts from the University of California at Riverside estimate that every time we interact with ChatGPT, OpenAI's AI system, it consumes approximately 500 milliliters of water, equivalent to what we would find in a 16-ounce water bottle. However, this figure varies depending on the location of the servers and the season. Additionally, this estimate includes indirect water use, such as that required to cool power plants that supply electricity to data centers.
What makes Iowa an efficient location for AI training is, in part, its climate. For much of the year, Iowa's climate is cool enough to allow Microsoft to use outside air to keep the supercomputers in optimal condition and dissipate heat, without requiring large amounts of water.
The Sustainable Future of AI in Iowa
Increased awareness of the environmental impact of AI is driving more responsible actions by technology companies. Microsoft has stated its commitment to working directly with water utilities to address the issue and reduce its water footprint in Iowa.
As AI continues to expand and become integrated into multiple aspects of our lives, the need to balance technological advancement with environmental sustainability becomes more evident. Iowa, with its critical role in the AI ??landscape, is uniquely positioned to lead the search for sustainable solutions that ensure a harmonious future between technology and nature.