UNITED STATES NEWS

Artificial intelligence technology behind ChatGPT was built in Iowa — with a lot of water

Sep 9, 2023, 6:14 AM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The cost of building an artificial intelligence product like ChatGPT can be hard to measure.

But one thing Microsoft-backed OpenAI needed for its technology was plenty of water, pulled from the watershed of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers in central Iowa to cool a powerful supercomputer as it helped teach its AI systems how to mimic human writing.

As they race to capitalize on a craze for generative AI, leading tech developers including Microsoft, OpenAI and Google have acknowledged that growing demand for their AI tools carries hefty costs, from expensive semiconductors to an increase in water consumption.

But they’re often secretive about the specifics. Few people in Iowa knew about its status as a birthplace of OpenAI’s most advanced large language model, GPT-4, before a top Microsoft executive said in a speech it “was literally made next to cornfields west of Des Moines.”

Building a large language model requires analyzing patterns across a huge trove of human-written text. All of that computing takes a lot of electricity and generates a lot of heat. To keep it cool on hot days, data centers need to pump in water — often to a cooling tower outside its warehouse-sized buildings.

In its latest environmental report, Microsoft disclosed that its global water consumption spiked 34% from 2021 to 2022 (to nearly 1.7 billion gallons, or more than 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools), a sharp increase compared to previous years that outside researchers tie to its AI research.

“It’s fair to say the majority of the growth is due to AI,” including “its heavy investment in generative AI and partnership with OpenAI,” said Shaolei Ren, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside who has been trying to calculate the environmental impact of generative AI products such as ChatGPT.

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 — such as to cool power plants that supply the data centers with electricity.

“Most people are not aware of the resource usage underlying ChatGPT,” Ren said. “If you’re not aware of the resource usage, then there’s no way that we can help conserve the resources.”

Google water use has attracted public attention, while doubling outside Las Vegas. It was also thirsty in Iowa, drawing more potable water to its Council Bluffs data centers than anywhere else.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, Microsoft said in a statement this week that it is investing in research to measure AI’s energy and carbon footprint “while working on ways to make large systems more efficient, in both training and application.”

“We will continue to monitor our emissions, accelerate progress while increasing our use of clean energy to power data centers, purchasing renewable energy, and other efforts to meet our sustainability goals of being carbon negative, water positive and zero waste by 2030,” the company’s statement said.

OpenAI echoed those comments in its own statement Friday, saying it’s giving “considerable thought” to the best use of computing power.

“We recognize training large models can be energy and water-intensive” and work to improve efficiencies, it said.

Microsoft made its first $1 billion investment in San Francisco-based OpenAI in 2019, more than two years before the startup introduced ChatGPT and sparked worldwide fascination with AI advancements. As part of the deal, the software giant would supply computing power needed to train the AI models.

To do at least some of that work, the two companies looked to West Des Moines, Iowa, a city of 68,000 people where Microsoft has been amassing data centers to power its cloud computing services for more than a decade. Its fourth and fifth data centers are due to open there later this year.

“They’re building them as fast as they can,” said Steve Gaer, who was the city’s mayor when Microsoft came to town. Gaer said the company was attracted to the city’s commitment to building public infrastructure and contributed a “staggering” sum of money through tax payments that support that investment.

“But, you know, they were pretty secretive on what they’re doing out there,” he added.

Microsoft first said it was developing one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers for OpenAI in 2020, declining to reveal its location to AP at the time but describing it as a “single system” with more than 285,000 cores of conventional semiconductors, and 10,000 graphics processors — a kind of chip that’s become crucial to AI workloads.

Experts have said it can make sense to “pretrain” an AI model at a single location because of the large amounts of data that need to be transferred between computing cores.

It wasn’t until late May that Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, disclosed that it had built its “advanced AI supercomputing data center” in Iowa, exclusively to enable OpenAI to train what has become its fourth-generation model, GPT-4. The model now powers premium versions of ChatGPT and some of Microsoft’s own products and has accelerated a debate about containing AI’s societal risks.

“It was made by these extraordinary engineers in California, but it was really made in Iowa,” Smith said.

In some ways, West Des Moines is a relatively efficient place to train a powerful AI system, especially compared to Microsoft’s data centers in Arizona that consume far more water for the same computing demand.

“So if you are developing AI models within Microsoft, then you should schedule your training in Iowa instead of in Arizona,” Ren said. “In terms of training, there’s no difference. In terms of water consumption or energy consumption, there’s a big difference.”

For much of the year, Iowa’s weather is cool enough for Microsoft to use outside air to keep the supercomputer running properly and vent heat out of the building. Only when the temperature exceeds 29.3 degrees Celsius (about 85 degrees Fahrenheit) does it withdraw water, the company has said in a public disclosure.

That can still be a lot of water, especially in the summer. In July 2022, the month before OpenAI says it completed its training of GPT-4, Microsoft pumped in about 11.5 million gallons of water to its cluster of Iowa data centers, according to the West Des Moines Water Works. That amounted to about 6% of all the water used in the district, which also supplies drinking water to the city’s residents.

In 2022, a document from the West Des Moines Water Works said it and the city government “will only consider future data center projects” from Microsoft if those projects can “demonstrate and implement technology to significantly reduce peak water usage from the current levels” to preserve the water supply for residential and other commercial needs.

Microsoft said Thursday it is working directly with the water works to address its feedback. In a written statement, the water works said the company has been a good partner and has been working with local officials to reduce its water footprint while still meeting its needs.

—-

O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island.

——

The Associated Press and OpenAI have a licensing agreement that allows for part of AP’s text archives to be used to train the tech company’s large language model. AP receives an undisclosed fee for use of its content.

United States News

Sidney Powell, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republic...

Associated Press

Supreme Court rejects appeal from Trump-allied lawyers over 2020 election lawsuit in Michigan

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from Sidney Powell and other lawyers allied with former President Donald Trump over $150,000 in sanctions they were ordered to pay for abusing the court system with a sham lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results in Michigan.

6 minutes ago

Associated Press

Man suspected in killing of woman in NYC hotel room arrested in Arizona after two stabbings there

NEW YORK (AP) — A man suspected in the death of a woman who was fatally bludgeoned in a New York City hotel room earlier this month has been arrested in Arizona, where police say he is a suspect in two stabbings in recent days. New York City police officials said at a news conference […]

37 minutes ago

Associated Press

Charges dropped against Florida family accused of attacking gay man in relationship with adult son

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — South Florida prosecutors dropped criminal charges on Tuesday against a couple and their adult son who had been accused of severely beating a man who had been in a relationship with the son. Yevhen Makarenko, his wife, Inna, and their son Oleh had each been charged with attempted murder, burglary […]

58 minutes ago

Associated Press

Southern California shopping center closed following reports of explosion

TUSTIN, Calif. (AP) — A Southern California shopping center was closed Tuesday afternoon following reports of an explosion, officials said. Multiple law enforcement agencies, including bomb squads from the Orange County sheriff and the FBI, responded to The Village at Tustin Legacy. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The Orange County Fire Authority said […]

1 hour ago

Construction continues at a building complex in Mesquite, Texas, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. As Presiden...

Associated Press

Biden wants people to know most of the money he’s seeking for Ukraine would be spent in the US

Biden wants voters to understand that nearly two-thirds — or nearly $40 billion — of the money for Ukraine would actually go to U.S. factories spread out across the country.

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Michigan Republicans plan dueling conventions for presidential nomination as turmoil continues

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Republicans’ clash over leadership of their state party could mean dueling presidential nominating conventions will take place March 2, even though the national Republican Party has said members properly removed former chair Kristina Karamo. Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra, the new Michigan GOP chair as recognized by the Republican National Committee, […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

FanDuel

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]

Artificial intelligence technology behind ChatGPT was built in Iowa — with a lot of water