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OpenAI’s Altman pitches global AI coalition on trip to Middle East

Altman met with investors and government officials in the United Arab Emirates this week to discuss how the private sector can work with countries to support costly, large-scale infrastructure for AI, said the people, who requested anonymity to share private discussions.
Last Updated : 11 April 2024, 10:28 IST
Last Updated : 11 April 2024, 10:28 IST

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By Shirin Ghaffary and Edward Ludlow

OpenAI Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman has been working to build a global coalition among government and industry leaders to support boosting the supply of chips, energy and data center capacity needed to develop artificial intelligence technology, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.

Altman met with investors and government officials in the United Arab Emirates this week to discuss how the private sector can work with countries to support costly, large-scale infrastructure for AI, said the people, who requested anonymity to share private discussions. Altman has also spoken with officials in a number of Western countries and is holding meetings in Washington later this week, one of the people said. It’s not yet clear what form this effort will take.

The meetings, which have not previously been reported, mark Altman’s latest attempt to address concerns that the supply of chips and other key infrastructure won’t be able to keep pace with the rapid deployment of AI. Altman has been working to raise billions of dollars from global investors for a chip venture, aiming to use the funds to set up a network of factories to manufacture semiconductors, Bloomberg has reported.

Altman's engagement with officials around the world represents a more sprawling outreach than was previously known. The CEO's current discussions also go beyond chip production to include other resources such as energy and data center capacity, several people familiar with the discussions said. It’s not yet clear what form this effort will take.

“As previously reported, OpenAI is having ongoing conversations about increasing global infrastructure and supply chains for chips, energy and data centers," a spokesperson for OpenAI said in a statement. "We look forward to sharing more details at a later date."

The ChatGPT maker views the need for vast amounts of energy to power AI systems as one of the biggest infrastructure challenges facing the tech industry, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking. Altman has previously talked about the need for an energy “breakthrough” to support the incredibly power-hungry technology, and suggested cheaper solar power or nuclear fusion could fuel AI development.

While in the UAE this week, Altman met with Martina Strong, the US ambassador to the country, one person said. (A representative for Strong at declined to comment.) Altman will also be traveling to Washington on Thursday, according to the person, to take meetings on Capitol Hill and with members of the US national security and intelligence communities. The meetings are part of ongoing discussions about how the US and its allies can continue to lead on AI, and ensure access to AI infrastructure.

Altman has previously indicated he believes it’s essential to work collaboratively with the US government on timing and structure for a multibillion-dollar chip venture, Bloomberg has reported. As part of that effort, he has also met with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Pursuing foreign investment from entities in the UAE could draw scrutiny from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which has paid increasingly close attention to Middle Eastern wealth funds’ ties to China. Lawmakers have also been particularly focused on Abu Dhabi AI firm G42 over similar concerns. Bloomberg previously reported G42 was a potential investor in OpenAI’s chip venture, but the current status of the discussions is unclear.

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Published 11 April 2024, 10:28 IST

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