The US has made a defensive move in the unacknowledged AI cold war with China. Leading U.S. corporation Microsoft has announced an investment in G42, a leading artificial intelligence and cloud computing company based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Founded in 2018, G42 is one of the pioneering AI and cloud computing firms in the Middle East region. Its mission is to become an AI-driven global leader by developing “holistic solutions for smart societies.” Major focus areas include healthcare, smart cities, oil & gas, transportation, and cybersecurity solutions powered by AI. Led by CEO Peng Xiao, G42 aims to establish Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a global hub for AI by combining fundamental research with applied AI solutions.

Microsoft is a multinational technology company that needs no introduction as one of the largest and most influential companies in the world. It has positioned itself as a forerunner of intelligent cloud services, being one of the largest and most valuable companies in the world by market capitalization.

Microsoft has partnered with G42 to “Empower organizations of all sizes in new markets to harness the benefits of AI and the cloud while ensuring they are adopting AI that adheres to world-leading standards in safety and security.”

G42 and Microsoft will also work together to bring advanced AI and digital infrastructure to countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, providing these nations with equitable access to services to address important governmental and business concerns while ensuring the highest standards of security and privacy.

G42 is like the Mistral of the Middle East. It’s the foremost AI startup in the UAE. There’s generally a positive anticipation of this partnership. G42 has recently been gaining a lot of publicity for its involvement with Microsoft.

Most commentators have viewed the partnership with suspicion due to G42;s longstanding ties with China. As of February 2024, G42 has separated itself from all Chinese investment, picking a side in the U.S.-China arms race.

There are some, like me, who believe the U.S. is, through Microsoft, trying to stay one step ahead of its competitor in the AI space: China. And there are some who believe the partnership should not happen because G42 still has ties to China through its CEO Peng Xiao. In a letter sent to the Secretary of US Commerce Gina Raimondo by a U.S. Representative, the concern was deeply expressed.

While we appreciate the US’s quite self-interested concern, there’s a bigger elephant in the room: the question of Arabian autocratic brutality. AI can be used to take a surveillance state to a whole new level, and internal opposition could be ruthlessly oppressed.

But G42 has so far tried to distance itself from these concerns and its affiliations with China and has aligned itself with Microsoft’s goals for a fairer use of AI. In the words of the Chairman of G42, H.H. Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, “Microsoft’s investment in G42 marks a pivotal moment in our company’s journey of growth and innovation, signifying a strategic alignment of vision and execution between the two organizations.” Is “tech-washing” a thing?