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China ties to UAE AI firm G42 catch CIA’s attention

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An Abu Dhabi-based artificial intelligence (AI) firm that formed a partnership with the Microsoft-based OpenAI last month is on the radar of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

G42, founded in 2018 in the United Arab Emirates, is being probed by the CIA and other American spy agencies for its collaboration with large Chinese companies, including the US-sanctioned Huawei Technologies, the New York Times reported on Monday.

The company is owned by UAE’s National Security Advisor Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, son of UAE founder Zahedan bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It is managed by Chief Executive Peng Xiao. 

The CIA has opened a file to investigate Xiao, who was educated in the US but then renounced his American citizenship for an Emirati one. 

US officials warned that G42 could have passed the genetic data of millions of Americans to China. 

Xiao said in an event in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday that the company has frameworks to protect data privacy and data classification, and that the safety of its AI systems is “fairly well addressed” to prevent prying eyes.

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However, he added that G42, as a vendor, cannot be held accountable for the data that has been passed to its customers.

The New York Times report was followed by a Bloomberg report, which said that US House Financial Services Chairman Patrick McHenry is effectively blocking a measure that would require firms to notify the government about certain investments in China and other countries of concern. 

The measure was approved by the Senate as part of its version of the defense bill earlier this year, but it faces strong opposition in the House from McHenry, who suggests targeting individual companies only, instead of having broad investment restrictions. 

Xiao’s connections

Over the past five years, the mysterious Xiao has been the key person who connected the sheikhs with different Chinese companies. 

According to his LinkedIn account, Xiao received his bachelor’s degree at Hawaii Pacific University in 1994 and his master’s degree at George Washington University in 1997. 

He was the chief technology officer at MicroStrategy, a US business intelligence company, in 1999-2014. He was the chief executive of Pegasus, a subsidiary of DarkMatter, which is a UAE-based cybersecurity firm, in 2015-2018. 

In 2018, he became the chief executive of G42, which was established in the same year. 

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After the pandemic broke out in early 2020, G42 and BGI Group, a Shenzhen-based genomics company, jointly set up a Covid-testing laboratory in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. 

In March 2021, when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a meeting with his UAE counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Xiao made a presentation about a Covid vaccine program launched by G42 and China National Pharmaceutical Group. 

Miles Guo, an exiled Chinese businessman, said in a video in August 2021 that Xiao could be the illegitimate son of Han Zheng, who became Chinese vice premier in 2018 and vice president in March this year. But Guo did not provide any evidence.

In August 2022, G42 announced the launch of the US$10 billion G42 Expansion Fund, a global technology growth fund formed in strategic partnership with Abu Dhabi Growth Fund. Xiao is the Chairman of the G42 Expansion Fund’s Investment Committee.

According to its website, G42 has increased the number of its AI research team members from 30 to more than 22,000 over the past five years. 

On July 20 this year, G42 and the US-based Cerebra Systems jointly launched the California-based Condor Galaxy 1, the world’s largest supercomputer for AI training. On October 18, G42 said it will leverage OpenAI’s generative AI models in sectors such as finance, energy, health care and public services in the UAE. 

US officials including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo have discussed with UAE officials this year about China’s ambitions to gain supremacy in the world’s cutting-edge technologies, including AI, quantum computing and genomic research, the New York Times reported.

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Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Wednesday when commenting on the New York Times report about G42 that “China always opposes the US overstretching the concept of national security, politicizing and weaponizing economic and trade issues or approaching them from an untenable security angle, and obstructing normal investment activities in the industrial community and private sectors.

“Such moves by the US undermine international economic order and trade rules and threaten the stability of global industrial and supply chains,” he said. “Those attempts find little support and will not get anywhere.”

Read: Xi and Biden at summit speak of conflict avoidance

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3



Source: Asia Times

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