More AI Expansion Plans: Microsoft Plants Flag in UAE and OpenAI in Japan

Generative AI partners and occasional competitors Microsoft and OpenAI each continued their global expansion this month, with the former establishing a foothold in the Middle East and the latter in Asia.

Microsoft, which recently announced plans to open a London branch of its AI group, this week announced it is extending the reach of its cloud and AI technologies in the United Arab Emirates via a $1.5 billion investment in Abu Dhabi-based AI conglomerate G42. Besides giving Microsoft minority ownership of G42 and a seat on its board (to be held by Microsoft President Brad Smith), the investment puts Microsoft in position to tap relatively underserved markets in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

The two companies are also collaborating on a combined $1 billion developer fund for the region.

G42 comprises seven subsidiary companies serving multiple industries, including public sector, healthcare and transportation. In the UAE, it's an early adopter of Microsoft's sovereign cloud platform, which is designed for public sector organizations that want to use Microsoft's Azure cloud while remaining compliant with local regulations around data privacy and residency.

As part of the deal, G42 will migrate its "data platform and other essential technology infrastructure" to Azure, according to a blog post Monday by Microsoft CMO Judson Althoff. That means G42 will be able to tap into Azure's extensive AI portfolio to improve its product development and delivery processes. The company will also double down on its efforts to bring Microsoft cloud services and Azure compute to customers in the area.

"By bringing expanded low latency datacenter infrastructure to emerging markets, Microsoft and G42 will help accelerate digital transformation across key industries in those regions," Althoff said. "This will provide countries across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa with expanded access to services and technologies that will allow them to address the most challenging business concerns while ensuring the highest standards of security and privacy."

Additionally, Microsoft will add G42's Arabic-language LLM, called Jais, to the model catalog in Azure AI Studio.

"The expanded partnership with Microsoft will help accelerate the adoption of G42's groundbreaking AI products and services, such as Jais, making them available through Microsoft Azure," said Althoff.

OpenAI Opens First Office in Asia
Last week, OpenAI -- whose GPT family of LLMs is the cornerstone of Microsoft's growing Copilot AI empire -- cut the ribbon at its Tokyo, Japan office, its first in Asia, to be headed by Tadao Nagasaki.

"We chose Tokyo as our first Asian office for its global leadership in technology, culture of service, and a community that embraces innovation," the company said in a blog post this past Sunday.

As part of OpenAI's effort to build mindshare in the region, the company is releasing a new GPT-4 version that's "specifically optimized for the Japanese language." This version, which will be open to organizations in Japan in an early access preview, is more efficient, faster and better at summarizing and translating Japanese than earlier GPT versions.

OpenAI is also promising to work with Japan's public and private sector to "develop safe AI tools that serve Japan's unique needs."

The Japan office will be OpenAI's fourth, following its locations in Dublin, London and San Francisco, where it's headquartered. Reportedly, it is also mulling an office in New York City.

OpenAI's expansion into Japan comes closely on the heels of Microsoft's announcement that is investing $2.9 billion in the region.

About the Author

Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editorial director of Converge360.