Altman Ups AI Arms Race

News that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is seeking a reported $5 trillion to $7 trillion to build a network of chip factories to fuel the growth of artificial intelligence followed a teaser post he left on social media: “We believe the world needs more AI infrastructure—fab capacity, energy, data centers, etc.—than people are currently planning to build,” Altman wrote on X. “Building massive-scale AI infrastructure, and a resilient supply chain, is crucial to economic competitiveness.”

Altman has been courting Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds (SWFs), including Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and ADQ. The last two are both chaired by the influential Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who also chairs G42, an ambitious Abu Dhabi-based AI company that already has partnerships with Microsoft and OpenAI. G42 recently divested its stakes in Chinese companies, indicating a pivot toward key Western markets is on the cards.

Altman is not the only player courting Gulf States money. As Western governments race to build fabrication foundries (“fabs”) and strengthen research and development funding for new chips by offering incentives, the Gulf States are hoping to compete by leveraging an abundance of money and the will to create a favorable regulatory environment. As far back as 2017, the United Arab Emirates appointed Omar Sultan Al Olama as the world’s first minister for artificial intelligence; Altman recently proposed that the UAE become the world’s AI regulatory sandbox.

The collaboration between G42 and Microsoft, announced last fall at COP28, aims in part to harness AI to combat climate change and enable a smoother transition to renewable energy resources. Using AI to diversify the Gulf economies away from their dependence on fossil fuels further stokes the interest of the region’s SWFs in the new technology.

Another new player is Softbank, which is seeking some $100 billion for an AI chip venture code-named Izanagi. The Japanese investment company is looking to commit $30 billion, to combine with $70 billion from institutions in the Middle East. Softbank founder Masayoshi Son says his firm is focusing exclusively on AI investments: reportedly, to complement the chip design unit Arm, in which it holds a 90% stake.