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Energy constraints holding back AI data centres, says Mark Zuckerberg

Written by Wed 24 Apr 2024

Image Credit: Reuters

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that while artificial intelligence (AI) theoretically has the potential for exponential growth, energy constraints are likely the largest bottleneck to constructing AI data centres.

Speaking on the Dwarkesh podcast this week, he noted the current excitement about AI may help knock down other barriers, like capital investment, but that the high energy consumption required by AI products may cause difficulties in creating the infrastructure to support them.

Unlike other constraints, energy restrictions are not a concern that is easily overcome by increased investment. While the Meta CEO noted that it is worth investing £8.05 ($10) or £80.4 billion ($100 billion) plus in building the infrastructure, he added that before investors question the value of investing in AI data centres, they will run into energy constraints.

This is because energy is a ‘very heavily regulated government function’ with greater regulation than even the software industry. Although perceptions of software compliance may vary depending on the size of the company involved.

Zuckerberg said software is more regulated than most people think, particularly for larger companies.

“Obviously if you are a small company you feel regulatory pressure less than if you are a big company. We interact with different governments and regulators and we have lots of rules that we need to follow and make sure we do a good job with around the world,” said Zuckerberg.

However, the regulations around energy are such that they could significantly delay the infrastructure needed for AI data centre buildout.

“If you are talking about building out large new power plants or large build-outs, and then building transmission lines that cross other private or public land, that is just a heavily regulated thing. So you are talking about many years of lead time. And if we wanted to stand up some massive facility and power it, that is a very long-term project,” said Zuckerberg.

Podcast host, Dwarkesh Patel, questioned Meta’s resource limitations. While this question seemed specific to financial constraints, Mark returned to the point that unlimited funds still will not help solve the energy constraints of AI data centres.

“I think energy is one piece. I think we would build out bigger clusters than we currently can if we could get the energy to do it,” said Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg added a lot of data centres are on the order of 50MW or 100MW, with bigger ones reaching capacity of 150MW.

“But then when you start getting into building a data centre that’s like 300MW or 500 MW or 1GW … it’s not going to be next year,” said Zuckerberg.

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Written by Wed 24 Apr 2024

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