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‘Selective’ UAE courting US, not China, on AI: minister

Dubai's Museum of the Future was the venue for the AI Retreat industry event on Tuesday
Dubai's Museum of the Future was the venue for the AI Retreat industry event on Tuesday - Copyright AFP Karim SAHIB
Dubai's Museum of the Future was the venue for the AI Retreat industry event on Tuesday - Copyright AFP Karim SAHIB
Talek Harris

The United Arab Emirates is in “complete alignment” with the US on developing artificial intelligence, the oil-rich country’s AI minister told AFP, confirming a shift away from China.

Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, was speaking Tuesday after a state-linked Emirati AI firm secured a major investment from Microsoft, reportedly divesting Chinese interests as part of the deal.

“The honest truth is in the AI space today, I think we need to be selective of who we work with,” Olama said in an interview, when asked about the UAE’s dealings with Chinese AI firms.

“There is going to be a lot of discussions between the UAE and the US of what they are comfortable that we do with other players around the world and what they aren’t comfortable (with),” he added.

“But on the AI front, I think there is going to be complete alignment between the UAE and the US.”

Abu Dhabi-based G42, chaired by the president’s brother and national security advisor Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, won a $1.5 billion strategic investment from US tech giant Microsoft in April.

According to the New York Times and Bloomberg, the deal followed talks between the US and UAE governments where G42 agreed to drop Chinese partnerships in favour of American technology.

– AI ‘top priority’ –

AI has become a major battleground between the two powers as the United States moves to retain its leading position in the transformative field and to stop Beijing accessing sensitive data.

Olama, 34, who became the world’s first AI minister in 2017, said the UAE — which is striving to pivot its economy away from oil — was “very bullish” on AI.

“AI is probably the top priority for the UAE in terms of our investments, in terms of our focus,” he said.

Last month G42, powered by the world’s biggest supercomputer, unveiled Falcon 2, an open-source generative model that seeks to rival American products such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

G42 subsidiary Inception and Abu Dhabi’s Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence have also produced Jais, billed as the world’s highest quality Arabic large-language model.

Olama was confident the models would overcome any potential regulatory hurdles from the European Union, which has introduced a new AI law and has strict standards for data collection, including from government and healthcare sources.

“I think for Europe, for the bloc as a whole, you’re going to see that the UAE is a partner that is willing to have a conversation to see how we can be an enabler for European companies to come to the UAE and operate,” Olama said.

“But the EU AI law is very new. We still are going through it, understanding it, and seeing what needs to be done there,” he added.

– ‘Major challenge’ –

Industry and government officials met at the AI Retreat on Tuesday, a brainstorming event at Dubai’s ellipse-shaped, Arabic-inscribed Museum of the Future.

In a keynote, Olama said the UAE wanted to be a “global player” with companies that “take the world by storm”.

Addressing questions about a possible gap in talent in the UAE, he remained upbeat.

“If you look at the progress that was made over the last five years and the snowballing of the talent that has moved into the UAE, I’m not worried that we’ll be able to bridge that gap very quickly,” he said.

The UAE, which wields some of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth assets, is also intent on developing a semiconductor industry to profit from rising demand for AI chips.

“There are definitely discussions and we are open to partnering with the right partners wherever they come from, whether it’s in Europe or the US,” Olama said.

In response to reports that the US is slowing exports of AI chips to countries in the region, he commented: “We would love to not be put in a bucket with other countries in this domain.”

“I am hopeful and I do believe that we are going to come up with a solution that is going to meet the requirements of all parties,” the minister added.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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