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UAE opts for US over China on AI collaboration

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) could be leaning on the United States for technical and policy direction for its nascent artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem even as it rolls out extensive plans to explore in-house solutions.

The supervising Ministry in charge of AI is in “alignment” with the U.S. on regulation and use cases for the technology, a move designed to ride the wave of AI successes in North America. Omar Al Olama, the UAE’s Minister of State for AI, disclosed the country’s stance in an interview following a sizable capital injection in a state-backed technology firm.

“The honest truth is in the AI space today, I think we need to be selective of who we work with,” said Olama. “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).”

Since 2020, the UAE has been bullish on its intent to embrace digitization, turning to blockchain technology and AI as the twin pillars of its digital future. Early in the plans, the oil-rich state appeared to lean on foreign technologies to achieve its objectives, turning to solutions from China, Europe, and the U.S.

However, the UAE abandoned plans to rely on foreign AI offerings, opting to develop its own models to protect its economic and security interests. Despite the valiant attempts, the UAE has to lean on either China or the U.S. for hardware to build its own AI systems from scratch, with the Gulf nation famously ordering a cache of AI chips from U.S.-based Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA).

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

The plans to formally work with the U.S. for infrastructure support follow extensive talks between both countries involving key sector players. As a show of support, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) injected $1.5 billion into the UAE-based G42 in a deal that saw the tech giant’s CEO take up a seat on G42’s board.

Furthermore, the deal saw G42 ditch Huawei’s system in favor of Microsoft’s Azure platform, with the U.S. demanding complete loyalty from its partners amid a brewing cold war with China. In the buildup to the deal, the U.S. Congress waved the threat of sanctions at G42 for its extensive ties with previously blacklisted Chinese companies.

Local efforts off to a flying start

Despite the absence of technical infrastructure, early attempts by the UAE to roll out localized large language models (LLMs) have caught the eye of industry experts. The UAE‘s Falcon and Jais series captures the nuances of Arab culture beyond mainstream offerings from OpenAI, Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL), and Meta (NASDAQ: META).

Kevin Miller, AWS VP for global data centers, shared that offerings from the UAE can put the Middle East at the forefront of AI innovation in the coming years.

“Clearly, Falcon is part of the conversation around core foundational models,” opined Miller. “That alone tells you there’s a lot of capability in the Middle East to build game and world-changing technical capabilities.”

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