Until someone finds a better way to contextualize large volumes of liquid, we’ll put it like this: in 2022, Microsoft consumed enough water to fill over 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools as it continued to fuel and cool its growing stable of AI tools and projects.
Every time you ask the ChatGPT-powered Bing to inspire you with recipe ideas — which honestly might not be that often — it’s thirsty work for the bot. Researchers estimate that, owing to the cooling processes required for the hardware, ChatGPT almost guzzles a full 16-oz bottle of water for every 5-50 prompts it’s fed.
Microsoft, along with a growing list of companies like Meta and Alphabet, has set 2030 as a deadline for restoring more water to the environment than it consumes for operations, otherwise known as being “water positive”. However, building and maintaining models like the Microsoft-backed GPT-4 requires a lot of computing and hardware, which produces a lot of energy and heat... and in turn requires a lot of water to cool systems within data centers so they don't overheat, resulting in the sort of consumption MSFT saw last year.
In 2022, the company’s water use was up 34% from the year before, with ~6.4 million cubic meters — or 1.7 billion gallons — consumed. That figure becomes even more stark when compared to Microsoft’s usage in 2017, just 5 years prior, when the company sunk ~1.95 million cubic meters of water, a whopping 228% less.