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In water-starved Middle East, large ChatGPT data centers are a threat

The UAE announced its record-breaking green data center in February of this year. The Moro Hub, created by the digital arm of DEWA, became the largest solar-powered data center, according to Guinness World Records.
A photo taken on March 31, 2023 in Manta, near Turin, shows a computer screen with the home page of the artificial intelligence OpenAI web site, displaying its chatGPT robot. - Italy's privacy watchdog said on March it had blocked the controversial robot ChatGPT, saying the artificial intelligence app did not respect user data and could not verify users' age. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

DUBAI — A recent study outlined the devastating and undisclosed water footprint of large artificial intelligence (AI) models like ChatGPT on the world’s environment. The impact of this would be a great concern for the future of the Middle East and North Africa, the world's most water-scarce region.

This is a factor that companies like Dubai Electric and Water Authority (DEWA) — which said in February that it plans to use ChatGPT in its offerings — need to consider in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of most water-scarce countries in the world. Other highly water-scarce countries in the region plan to use ChatGPT on a large scale and face similar risks. 

The amount of water needed to cool down computational processes of advanced AI-powered language learning models (LLM) like GPT-3 and GPT-4 is massive and also “kept as a secret,” according to the April 2023 report “Making AI Less ‘Thirsty’: Uncovering and Addressing the Secret Water Footprint of AI Models,” by UC-Riverside and UT-Arlington researchers.

The report estimated that OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which gives automated answers to almost any question asked, needs to drink a 500-milliliter bottle of water for every 20 to 50 questions and answers exchanged. More advanced models like GPT-3 and GPT-4 are said to consume even more. 

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