Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed leads the G42, an increasingly powerful player in the global AI race
In the 15th century, Sultan Bayezid II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire , is said to have banned the printing press in the Arabic-speaking world, even as the revolutionary technology spread throughout Europe.
“We over-regulated the technology that was the printing press. said Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of Artificial Intelligence (AI) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the summit last month. “He was accepted everywhere on Earth. The Middle East banned it for 200 years.”
Now the Arab world is embracing technological change, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi emerging as unexpected leaders in the new race for AI power.
A Middle Eastern country of about 10 million people, the UAE is using its vast oil wealth to compete with Silicon Valley , running some of the most advanced artificial intelligence language models on the planet.
But while the UAE has long been a US ally in the region, the Middle Eastern state's ambitions in the sector have now raised private concerns among national security officials in Washington, D.C.
The concerns arise from supposedly close ties between the fastest and fastest players in the country. growing artificial intelligence company, G42 and China.
Little known outside the region, G42 is becoming an increasingly influential player in the global AI race. Earlier this year, the company launched Jais, an artificial intelligence program it calls “the world's most advanced model of Arabic big language.”
Founded in 2018, the company's name refers to Douglas Adams' novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ” It is headed by Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed, an influential national security adviser and businessman, a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family and brother of the UAE president.
During the sheikh's visit to the White House earlier this year, Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, issued a statement filled with warm words. But privately, a White House official had more pressing questions about the G42, the New York Times reported last month.
The US is pushing the G42 to cut ties with Chinese technology companies. The CIA reportedly raised concerns about G42's previous work with Huawei, a sanctioned Chinese company. Gina Raimondo, the trade minister, also discussed the situation in private meetings with Emirati officials.
Alexis Serfaty, director of geopolitical consultancy Eurasia Group, says there are rumors that “the US government harbors suspicions about the company.” regarding its apparent use of Chinese-made equipment. Officials are understandably concerned about what might happen to the data on American citizens that G42 artificial intelligence tools collect.
It's just the latest example of the White House's Cold War with China's tech industry spilling into the Middle East.
The U.S. government has already limited the supply of high-end graphics processors, which are used to run artificial intelligence algorithms, by tightening chip licensing rules. sent to the Middle East, including the UAE. The region has been at the center of a crackdown amid concerns that the chips could end up being used by Chinese companies.
The UAE is ready to balance between its allies in the East and West. He has resisted US lobbying to crack down on Huawei, the Chinese tech giant accused of spying. Huawei has always denied these claims, and its technology is widely used in the UAE's 5G network.
Western tech companies have also been happy to collaborate with G42, which has signed agreements with Microsoft and OpenAI. It developed its artificial intelligence technology on a supercomputer built by the US company Cerebras.
Andreas Krieg, a senior lecturer and defense expert at King's College London, says the UAE has so far been able to “get access to technology from both sides” – USA and China. He adds that the UAE “understands that as a country caught between East and West, it must expand its influence over China.”
The AI Security Summit hosted by Rishi Sunak in November was attended by UAE AI Minister Omar Sultan Al Olama. Photo: WPA Pool/Justin Tallis/Getty Images Europe
China has criticized reports that the US is concerned about the situation in the G42. In November, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said “the US has repeatedly sabotaged cooperation between Chinese companies and other countries” and called the moves “economic coercion.”
However, even G42 admits it needs to tread carefully. On Friday, Peng Xiao, the company's chief executive, told the Financial Times that it could not “work with both sides” indefinitely.
He said: “Our impression from the [US government] and American partners is that that we need to be very careful… we simply cannot work with Chinese partners anymore.” He said G42 plans to phase out the use of Huawei kit. Last month, he told Fortune magazine that any US data he handled was kept “safe and secure.”
Outside the US, the G42 also has growing ties to the UK. It is the third-largest shareholder of British biotech Oxford Nanopore and has signed an agreement with AstraZeneca to produce drugs in the UAE.
In January, heads of the G42 medical unit met with Andrew Bowie, then a junior official, according to government reports. business department will discuss potential “collaboration”. Al Olama, the UAE's AI Minister, was also a key participant in the AI Security Summit hosted by Rishi Sunak in November.
The UAE's technological advances are helping bolster its international profile despite widespread concerns about human rights, censorship and authoritarian rule. . The UAE has emerged as an “artificial intelligence power,” says Krieg. “They represent a smart cyber force that no other Middle Eastern power has.”
How they plan to use this force is not yet known.