More like prompt hydroengineering

This February, I half-joked:

Waiting for headlines about how web searches are now sent through so many AI models the energy consumption is worse than crypto.


I was hoping that wasn’t true, but the data is starting to come in. Here’s one I saw (via Ethan):

In a paper due to be published later this year, Ren’s team estimates ChatGPT gulps up 500 milliliters of water (close to what’s in a 16-ounce water bottle) every time you ask it a series of between 5 to 50 prompts or questions. The range varies depending on where its servers are located and the season. The estimate includes indirect water usage that the companies don’t measure β€” such as to cool power plants that supply the data centers with electricity.

Artificial intelligence technology behind ChatGPT was built in Iowa β€” with a lot of water

That’s ChatGPT usage directly, but both Microsoft and Google report steep increases (34% and 20%, respectively) in the 2021-2022 period, specifically because of AI.



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2 responses to “More like prompt hydroengineering”

  1. Christopher Stevers says:

    I’ve always been curious when amounts of water used mentioned what that really means. Is that 16oz going straight into a sewer to a river – could they be running it through ponds to go back to the aquifers it came from? Is it polluted with some sort of treatment?

    I’ve often seen the issue come up with livestock water use and I love to hear from a hydrologist how much water usage animal agriculture is actually responsible for because a lot of the water is going to go back to where it came from via manure.

    • Chris Coyier says:

      Yeah that’s an interesting question. I guess I assume that it means that it just needs to back into the system like your sink and shower water does. It’s not like it disappears or becomes toxic waste, but costs money, burdens local systems, means there is less water for other reasons, etc. But it would be nice to get a clearer picture of that, since it’s grouped together with carbon footprint and electricity usage and such.

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