AI IS TAKING WATER FROM THE DESERT

New data centers are springing up every week. Can the Earth sustain them?

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AI IS TAKING WATER FROM THE DESERT

One scorching day this past September, I made the dangerous decision to try to circumnavigate some data centers. The ones I chose sit between a regional airport and some farm fields in Goodyear, Arizona, half an hour’s drive west of downtown Phoenix. When my Uber pulled up beside the unmarked buildings, the temperature was 97 degrees Fahrenheit.

The air crackled with a latent energy, and some kind of pulsating sound was emanating from the electric wires above my head, or maybe from the buildings themselves. With no shelter from the blinding sunlight, I began to lose my sense of what was real.

Microsoft announced its plans for this location, and two others not so far away, back in 2019—a week after the company revealed its initial $1 billion investment in OpenAI, the buzzy start-up that would later release ChatGPT. From that time on, OpenAI began to train its models exclusively on Microsoft’s servers; any query for an OpenAI product would flow through Microsoft’s cloud-computing network, Azure.

 In part to meet that demand, Microsoft has been adding data centers at a stupendous rate, spending more than $10 billion the largest infrastructure buildout that humanity has ever seen

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