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Rural America Becomes Unexpected Epicenter of AI-Fueled Data Center Gold Rush

As AI promises to transform medicine, transportation, commerce, and more, the obscured data centers enabling algorithm training are reshaping both digital and physical terrains. Rural communities are experiencing economic boons but facing environmental trade-offs as America's landscape adapts to AI progress powered by a hidden machine.

The rapid evolution of artificial intelligence has fueled intense demand for specialized computing infrastructure to develop ever-more complex algorithms. This building boom for data centers is quietly reshaping America’s physical and digital landscape.

AI models require vast data sets and intensive parallel processing to train systems in tasks like language translation or identifying objects in images. Graphics processing units, or GPUs, excel at these repetitive computations. As a result, AI servers in data centers pack in far more GPUs than typical set-ups. Researchers estimate an AI data center could consume over 5 times the energy of standard facilities.

To meet demand, real estate investors and cloud computing giants are racing to construct larger data complexes. Rural areas like New Albany, Ohio offer access to affordable land and electricity. “If you're a major data center developer or customer, we want to talk to you,” said Matt McCollister of One Columbus economic development group. Northern Virginia has become an AI server epicenter with Amazon alone planning $87 billion in local data centers.

But the infrastructure boom carries sustainability risks. Backup generators for Amazon's Virginia server farms could nearly power all of New York City. This concentrated energy use taxes utility grids, hampering renewable shifts. In Phoenix, pending data center requests equal Salt River Project utility’s entire 11,000 megawatt system. To manage needs, SRP approved 2,000 megawatts of new gas facilities, slowing decarbonization plans.

“AI has driven data center growth to staggering levels,” said DigitalBridge CEO Marc Ganzi. “Not sure how we do it." Yet done it must be, as AI permeates our digital services and resources race to keep pace. Data centers’ climate impacts could ultimately cloud AI's benefits. Policy and planning will bridge the gap.

The artificial intelligence revolution underpinning innovations from ChatGPT to autonomous driving has fueled breakneck growth in data centers. As revealed in a recent Wall Street Journal report, investments in these specialized computing facilities are reshaping America’s digital and physical landscapes while raising sustainability concerns. With AI projected to remain a transformative global force, data infrastructure enabling algorithm training will continue expanding its environmental footprint.

This boom has sparked a data center gold rush to house specialized servers, quietly transforming rural communities granted fortunes yet facing sustainability pressures. As Big Tech companies pour billions towards expanding this concealed infrastructure enabling AI innovations, planning bridges must be built to mitigate environmental impacts. The machine powering prominent AI capabilities operates on a growing scale. As data center development stretches across America's landscape, policy and action balancing growth and emissions reductions becomes urgent. Tracking the buildout's impacts will illuminate solutions supporting responsible expansion.

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