Microsoft uses its genAI leverage against China — prelude to a tech Cold War? – Computerworld

Boxing China out of the Middle East’s Best AI Company

The immediate target of this round of tech diplomacy is the United Arab Emirates-based G42, which is about as well-connected as any company can be. The New York Times describes it as “a crown jewel for the UAE, which is building an artificial intelligence industry as an alternative to oil income.” It’s controlled by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, the UAE’s national security adviser, who is among the most powerful members of Abu Dhabi’s royal family, according to Forbes.

The Times says G42 is right in the middle of US efforts to blunt  “China’s ambitions to gain supremacy in the world’s cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, quantum computing, cloud computing, surveillance infrastructure and genomic research.”

Before the Microsoft deal, the US was especially concerned about G42’s connections to large Chinese tech firms, including telecommunications giant Huawei — which is under US sanctions — and possibly even the Chinese government.

According to the Times, US officials worried G42 was being used to siphon off advanced American technology to Chinese tech firms or to the Chinese government. “Intelligence reports have also warned that G42’s dealings with Chinese firms could be a pipeline to get the genetic data of millions of Americans and others into the hands of the Chinese government,” the Times reported.

Enter Washington’s most powerful officials and the point of its sharp spear, Microsoft. We don’t know exactly what happened behind the scenes. But we do know a deal was “largely orchestrated by the Biden administration to box out China as Washington and Beijing battle over who will exercise technological influence in the Persian Gulf region and beyond,” according to the Times.

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo traveled twice to the Emirates to get the complex agreement done. It gave the US — and Microsoft — exactly what they wanted. Microsoft will invest $1.5 billion in G42, which will sell Microsoft services to train and tune genAI models. G42 will also use Microsoft’s Azure cloud services, and it agreed to a secret security arrangement, of which no details have been made public. 


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