G42 is an AI and cloud computing company based in Abu Dhabi with ties to the UAE government. A New York Times report has revealed that the company is under investigation by US intelligence agencies.
According to a report in the New York Times, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan raised concerns about the potential extent of cooperation between the AI company G42 and Chinese companies such as Huawei during a visit by his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed.
The company is based in the United Arab Emirates and is controlled by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed. According to the report, US officials are concerned that G42 could serve as a conduit for the transfer of advanced US technology to Chinese companies or the government. G42 works with major Chinese companies that US officials consider security threats, including Huawei, which is subject to US sanctions.
In addition, intelligence reports warn that G42’s business relationships with Chinese companies could lead to the genetic data of millions of Americans and others falling into the hands of the Chinese government, according to two officials familiar with the reports.
US intelligence agencies investigated G42 CEO Peng Xiao
The CIA even produced a classified profile of Peng Xiao, the CEO of G42, who was educated in the US and renounced his American citizenship in favour of that of the United Arab Emirates. The conclusions of the CIA document on Xiao are not public, according to the New York Times.
The Biden administration has expressed concern about the company and its management in recent months, urging G42 to sever its ties with Chinese companies and authorities. The possibility of sanctions against the company has also been raised.
According to the report, the talks took place in Washington and Abu Dhabi and were led by several US officials, including CIA Director William J. Burns and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Tarun Chhabra, director for technology at the National Security Council, also raised concerns with officials in Abu Dhabi.
Biden administration cracks down on high-tech transfers to China
The G42 is thus at the center of US efforts to curb China’s efforts to gain supremacy in world-leading technologies such as artificial intelligence. The Biden administration has imposed export restrictions on chip manufacturers and other relevant technology companies to prevent advanced chip technologies from reaching China and Russia. Fears that China could obtain these technologies through third countries or use them locally led to an extension of the bans to certain Middle Eastern countries in August.
But the case of G42 is complicated: The company has partnerships with Chinese companies such as Huawei, but also with American companies such as Microsoft and Dell Technologies. Since mid-October, it has also partnered with OpenAI.
G42 is also building one of the world’s fastest AI supercomputers, the Condor Galaxy, using Cerebra’s AI chips. The Arabic language model Jais is one of the first AI models trained on Condor Galaxy 1.
US authorities expressed concern that parts of G42’s technological infrastructure had been built with the help of Chinese companies, including Huawei.
They have been working with “various international technology companies from around the world”, said Talal Al Kaissi, a senior executive at G42. Talks with Microsoft to replace the technology stack and infrastructure have been ongoing since the end of last year. This year it has turned to US companies, including Cerebras and Nvidia, to upgrade the supercomputers and move away from a “legacy technology supplier that included Chinese hardware”.
G42 CEO Xiao comments on the allegations
CEO Xiao commented on the report at the Fortune Global Forum in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. He said he had seen it but had not yet finished reading it. He said, “it’s correct that we all need to pay attention to the proper development of AI, and ultimately what we use AI for.”
He emphasized that G42 protects data when working with partners around the world. “We make sure there is no leakage of sensitive information from our data center link in the U.S. If the U.S. counterparts ever share any data with us, we are accountable for ensuring that data is kept safe and sound here,” he told Fortune.
But accountability only goes so far: “The challenge is when data or models get to your clients, your customer’s hands, where you don’t have that type of control anymore.”