Discover more from Middle East AI News
Sam Altman's Middle East tour
Did the OpenAI CEO's whistle-stop tour of the Middle East have purpose?
Well, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been to the Middle East and gone in barely three days, visiting Israel, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in quick succession. His visit was so brief and his schedule so punishing (private jet, or not), that it does make one wonder what purpose he had in mind when planning this trip.
Even in Israel, where he was on the ground for a little less than two days, his meetings with the tech sector and government officials seem to have been very brief. Israel, of course, has advanced technology R&D and so there many Israeli technology firms that could develop on ChatGPT, so this would have been of some interest. Meantime, Microsoft, which has invested billions in OpenAI, briefed media that its R&D centre in Herzliya will develop ChatGPT products.
Microsoft also hinted that OpenAI was considering investment opportunities in Israel:. However, this was something that was downplayed by OpenAI itself and, in fact, Altman dismissed the idea of opening any R&D centre in the country. So, it seems that investment wasn't a priority for his tour, nor the prospect of additional R&D facilities.
Altman's visits to Jordan, Qatar and the UAE were shorter. On Monday he took the stage at Tel Aviv University and that evening at King Hussein Business Park in Amman to answer questions from auditoriums packed with startup founders, corporate innovation heads, students and government officials. Something that the CEO clearly enjoys immensely.
On Tuesday, he spoke at similar events in Doha at the Qatar National Library and in Abu Dhabi at the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM). Audiences, of course, found Altman to be visionary, level-headed and a very pleasant character, who eloquently put existential AI risks and fears into context, whilst expressing his optimism for our shared AI future. He was a delight to listen to, but told us little that we've not heard before.
In contrast to the common practice of many global tech firms, who lineup local contracts and MoUs in advance for the CEO to officiate during their visit, no major news announcement of any kind was made during the three days. In fact, media were left to create their own stories based on comments Altman made about technology at public events, or compliments made about the places he was visiting.
On the policy front, which has been headline news for the past few months, it seems that Altman's few meetings with policymakers were friendly, but with no strict agenda. Of course, it's hard to guess what discussions may have preceded his visits and his meetings with policymakers, but they did seem to be very low-key. Although, he reportedly turned down the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Israel.
There were meetings during his brief visit to the UAE, in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The OpenAI CEO met first deputy ruler of Dubai, deputy prime minister and UAE Minister of Finance H.H. Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in a meeting attended by Mohammad bin Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs; Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications; Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General of Dubai's Department of Economy and Tourism; and Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, Director General of Digital Dubai. Altman also met with president of the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence Eric Xing in Abu Dhabi.
Overall, there must be very few complaints about Sam Altman's visit to the region, except perhaps from journalists looking for a hard news angle. This wasn't by any means a holiday for the busy OpenAI CEO, but, on the other hand, he announced no news, confirmed no partnerships, signed no deals and didn't appear to suggest any ideas that he hasn't already floated before. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the region's biggest future buyer and user of AI, was left completely off Altman's agenda. So, it’s difficult to judge the value that OpenAI got out of this trip. Nevertheless, many who got the chance to ask him questions this week will be telling friends and colleagues about the conversation they had with Sam Altman for many months to come!
Here are the videos of Sam Altman’s public events in Israel, Jordan and the UAE: