US lawmaker wants probe of UAE firm with ties to OpenAI, Microsoft

US lawmakers are calling for an investigation of a United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based artificial intelligence (AI) firm with ties to OpenAI and Microsoft over its association with Chinese entities engaged in surveillance and human-rights abuses, including some  that have been blacklisted by the US government.

In an open letter to US Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and chairman of the House China Select Committee, raised concerns about extensive relationships G42 has with Chinese military and intelligence services and other state-owned entities.

G42 is led Chairman Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed —UAE’s National Security Advisor and the younger brother of the country’s ruler — and CEO Peng Xiao. The company should face trade restrictions due to questionable affiliations, in particular the “active relationships” it has with Huawei, Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) and other individuals engaged in conduct that promotes China’s intelligence efforts, as well as links between Xiao and suspected human rights abuses, according to the letter.

Huawei and BGI already have been blacklisted by the US government — which means they’ve been put on the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security’s  (BIS) Entity List due to suspected involvement in surveillance activities for the Chinese government.

“Without new restrictions against G42, the company’s extensive capabilities will provide much-needed analytical capacity for BGI to exploit the data it has collected from American citizens, to include millions of pregnant women,” according to the letter. “Relatedly, export controls against Huawei will be further undermined if Huawei can access and/or acquire advanced hardware and cloud computing services through its partners like G42.”

Precedent for Restriction

Moreover, G42 CEO also serves as executive director of Pegasus Technology, a subsidiary of Dark Matter. Pegasus develops spyware and surveillance tools that governments can use to illegally spy on and target dissidents, journalists, politicians, and US companies.

“Many of the tools developed by Pegasus and DarkMatter are subject to export controls,” Gallagher noted, and former American employees of Dark Matter already have been fined for violations of the Arms Export Control Act.

“While State has taken action against DarkMatter, Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has failed to place any restrictions on DarkMatter, G42, or their affiliated companies,” Gallagher wrote.

Unless similar action is taken, export-controlled technology developed and sold by companies such as Microsoft, Dell and OpenAI that have relationships with G42 and its subsidiaries “are at significant risk for diversion” to China-based affiliates that support the surveillance and human rights abuses, Gallagher said.

The letter cited other sketchy connections between G42 and individuals related with China’s intelligence efforts as evidence that a probe and potential trade limitations are needed. They include  Song-Chun Zhu, the former director of a center at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) who now serves as one of DarkMatter’s lead AI research collaborators.

Zhu worked on Department of Defense-funded research at UCLA while simultaneously participating in the Chinese Communist Party’s Thousand Talent plan, which requires its participants to acquire research and technology on behalf of the Chinese government, Gallagher said. He left UCLA in 2020 to return to China and has since created a new AI laboratory with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

China Trade Crackdown

G42 did not respond immediately to request for comment. The Biden administration has been cracking down heavily on trade with China, particularly organizations that can provide cutting-edge technology to further advance the country’s military and intelligence endeavors.

Numerous microprocessor firms have felt the brunt of these clampdowns — notably Nvidia; it is currently pushing to release a series of China-specific chips after some of its microprocessors become ineligible for export to the region due to restrictions.

G42 touts itself as a leader in AI research and is investigating cloud computing, datacenters, and other technologies to achieve its goals. Key investors are the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala along with US private equity firm Silver Lake.

In addition to technology agreements with Dell, OpenAI, and Microsoft — which recently unveiled a partnership with G42 for its Cloud for Sovereignty product — the company also has a deal with Silicon Valley chip firm Cerebras to build a supercomputer for its AI efforts.

Because of these ties with top US tech companies, G42’s ties to China are worrying, as its “extensive capabilities” could help partners engage in illegal endeavors, putting the US government, academic institutions, and other companies at risk, according to Gallagher.

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.



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About Abu Hamza

Abu Hamza is member of Business Bee Staff

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