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In Race to Build A.I., Tech Plans a Big Plumbing Upgrade

If 2023 was the tech industry’s year of the A.I. chatbot, 2024 is turning out to be the year of A.I. plumbing. It may not sound as exciting, but tens of billions of dollars are quickly being spent on behind-the-scenes technology for the industry’s A.I. boom.

Companies from Amazon to Meta are revamping their data centers to support artificial intelligence. They are investing in huge new facilities, while even places like Saudi Arabia are racing to build supercomputers to handle A.I. Nearly everyone with a foot in tech or giant piles of money, it seems, is jumping into a spending frenzy that some believe could last for years.

Microsoft, Meta, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, disclosed this week that they had spent more than $32 billion combined on data centers and other capital expenses in just the first three months of the year. The companies all said in calls with investors that they had no plans to slow down their A.I. spending.

In the clearest sign of how A.I. has become a story about building a massive technology infrastructure, Meta said on Wednesday that it needed to spend billions more on the chips and data centers for A.I. than it had previously signaled.

“I think it makes sense to go for it, and we’re going to,” Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, said in a call with investors.

The eye-popping spending reflects an old parable in Silicon Valley: The people who made the biggest fortunes in California’s gold rush weren’t the miners — they were the people selling the shovels. No doubt Nvidia, whose chip sales have more than tripled over the last year, is the most obvious A.I. winner.

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