Role of geopolitics in the global AI race

Category: AI Americas Asia Europe

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been making headlines with its groundbreaking advancements. However, less discussed is the fact that these technological feats are underpinned by increasingly larger “training runs”. These involve training algorithms on massive datasets, requiring thousands of advanced semiconductor chips and a significant amount of electricity.

The growth of AI companies in the US and UK will eventually be limited by the lack of sufficient computing and electrical power. If not addressed urgently, this could force them to relocate key facilities and capabilities to other countries. This impending scenario is set to trigger a global race for financial subsidies for advanced chips and low-cost electricity.

The geopolitical competition is likely to intensify between a US- and UK-centric AI ecosystem and a China-centric one. Wealthy middle powers like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, which do not have clear allegiance to either side, will play a significant role.

Current training runs for AI models such as Claude from Anthropic, ChatGPT from OpenAI, and Gemini from DeepMind/Google cost in the range of $100 million. This cost is projected to rise exponentially, with future models potentially costing an astonishing $1 billion to $10 billion. These models also require enormous amounts of electricity.

Positioning of the UAE and Saudi Arabia

To secure these resources, entrepreneurs from the UK and US are seeking partnerships with investors, chipmakers, and power providers. For instance, Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, is seeking up to $7 trillion for a partnership to build semiconductor chip foundries, with plans to raise money from Middle Eastern investors.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are positioning themselves as havens for AI growth, leveraging their large cash reserves to offer premium computer chips and cheap, plentiful electricity. However, experts have raised concerns about the potential transfer of anonymised data of US, UK, and other citizens to these countries, where privacy protections are less stringent. There are also concerns about the potential movement of top-tier AI talent and the risk of hacking. In a scenario where both data and advanced technical knowhow could easily move to China and Russia due to the region’s close alignment with those powers, the stakes are high.

While Western attention in the Middle East might currently be focused on rising tensions between Israel and Iran, these developments in AI underscore the need for the US, UK, and their allies to start thinking strategically. They have two options: go it alone and try to keep their AI ecosystems self-sufficient, or engage with these middle powers to secure a place in the global AI race. The decisions made now will shape the future of AI and its role in global geopolitics.