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Saudi Arabia, UAE compete to buy Nvidia’s chip as global AI race heats up

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The Gulf nations of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have indicated an interest in becoming leaders in artificial intelligence (AI), spending millions of dollars in the process.

Both nations are reportedly spending fortunes purchasing high-end chips to develop advanced AI systems, according to Financial Times. The report noted that Saudi Arabia had reportedly ordered 3,000 of Nvidia’s (NASDAQ: NVlatest chip, with the UAE matching Saudi Arabia’s order.

Priced at around $40,000 per chip, the entire purchase will cost Saudi Arabia $120 million as it seeks to increase its cache of semiconductors. Saudi Arabia is eyeing the creation of its own large language model (LLM) for generative AI and is at an advanced stage of developing a supercomputer.

Both oil-rich states are reportedly facilitating their purchases through state-owned enterprises, with Saudi Arabia’s order coming through the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Kaust).

As geopolitics continues to affect economies significantly, Saudi Arabia and UAE are keen on establishing their own AI models independent of U.S.-based OpenAI or Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) offerings.

“The UAE has made a decision that it wants to … own and control its own computational power and talent, have their own platforms, and not be dependent on the Chinese or the Americans,” said a Financial Times source. “Importantly, they have the capital to do it, and they have the energy resources to do that and are attracting the best global talent as well.”

For the UAE, its foray into AI dates back to 2017, after it pioneered an AI Ministry in an attempt to establish a regulatory framework for innovative technology. Six years later, the UAE’s AI ecosystem has grown in leaps and bounds, capped by the launch of an open-source AI model.

“I was extremely impressed by the model, considering the resources they used,” said one AI expert. “For a while, it was among the best models in the open-source world.”

Both countries are throwing their weight behind the development of innovative technologies, with UAE inching forward to be the global digital currency capital. Several global digital asset service providers are flocking to Dubai to set up shop, buoyed by regulatory clarity and a positive government stance.

Ethical concerns for the AI rush

The AI arms race by both Gulf nations has triggered worry amongst critics over fears that their AI development will not adhere to ethical guidelines. They cite that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are absolute monarchies with a history of human rights abuses.

“Human rights defenders and journalists are frequent targets of government crackdowns [in UAE and Saudi Arabia],” said a critic Iverna McGowan, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Europe office, in Brussels. “Pair this with the fact that we know how AI can have discriminatory impacts, or be used to turbocharge unlawful surveillance. It’s a frightening thought.”

Consumer groups worldwide are raising the alarm over privacy issues arising from AI use, while AI developers are calling for “reasonable” regulations to foster innovation.

Watch: BSV in the Middle East

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