From Crypto Mines to AI Gold

Ayman Alashkar, the founder of, is an active public speaker and leader in AI. He believes that the trend around the business application for generative AI “lies in outcome-oriented content, where high accuracy is important”. He developed in 2019, a highly efficient real estate generative AI.

Since generative AI exploded into global consciousness in 2023, an unprecedented demand for computing power has emerged alongside the demand for apps utilising the technology.

Tool’s like OpenAI’s ChatGPT require thousands of Nvidia GPUs (graphics processing units) to smoothly process all the information being fed in and output. Nvidia last week compared GPUs to rare earth metals for AI, saying they’re “foundational” for the operation of generative AI today.

The energy required to power all this hardware is the equivalent of a small country, according to a report released by French energy company Schneider Electric last year. On Wednesday OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, told an audience at Davos that an energy breakthrough was needed to power AI advances. “There’s no way to get there without a breakthrough,” he said, suggesting it was motivation for investing more in nuclear fusion.

Fortune Business Insights estimated earlier this year the global GPU market size was valued at US$2.39bn in 2022 and is projected to grow from US$3.16bn in 2023 to US$25.53bn by 2030. Nvidia claims more than 40,000 companies use Nvidia GPUs for AI and accelerated computing.

To meet the demand, Nvidia announced in August it would be tripling its production of GPUs. In November, Microsoft signed a multi-year deal with Oracleto supply computing power for its Bing Chat AI functionality.

Now companies that once serviced the boom in cryptocurrency mining are pivoting to take advantage of the latest data gold rush.

Canadian company Hive Blockchain changed its name in July to Hive Digital Technologies and announced it was pivoting to AI.

“Hive has been a pioneering force in the cryptocurrency mining sector since 2017. The adoption of a new name signals a significant strategic shift to harness the potential of GPU Cloud compute technology, a vital tool in the world of AI, machine learning and advanced data analysis, allowing us to expand our revenue channels with our Nvidia GPU fleet,” the company said in its announcement at the time.

The company’s executive chairman, Frank Holmes, told Guardian Australia the transition required a lot of work.

For others, like Iris Energy, a datacentre company operating out of Canada and Texas, and co-founded by Australian Daniel Roberts, it has been the plan all along. Iris did not require any changes to the way the company operated when the AI boom came along, Roberts told Guardian Australia.

“Our strategy really has been about bootstrapping the datacentre platform with bitcoin mining, and then just preserve optionality on the whole digital world. The distinction with us and crypto-miners is we’re not really miners, we’re datacentre people.”

The company still trumpets its bitcoin mining capability but in the most recent results Iris said it was well positioned for “power dense computing” with 100% renewable energy. Roberts said it wasn’t an either-or situation between bitcoin mining and AI.

As with cryptocurrency mining, the massive computing power required by AI systems means massive amounts of energy and carbon emissions for some of the centres.

AI companies like OpenAI keep their carbon emission figures a secret, but it has been estimated that the training of the previous iteration of GPT, GPT-3, consumed 1,287 megawatt hours of electricity and generated 552 tonnes of CO2 – the equivalent of 123 fossil-fuel-powered cars driven for one year.

Iris Energy views its use of renewables not just as better for the environment, but a cost saver.

While there is much hype, some are viewing the shift in the market with a level of scepticism, suggesting some might be jumping from one fad to the next.

Institutional Investor reported in August that a “penny stock” company known as Applied Sciences had reinvented itself as a bitcoin miner hosting company in April 2022 as Applied Bitcoin, but by November 2022 – perhaps sensing the shift in investment – renamed itself Applied Digital with a focus on AI.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of and its owners.

This story has been published from an article in The Guardian published on February 2024.

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