UAE-made AI models helping put Middle East on global tech map, AWS executive says

The Falcon large language model, developed in Abu Dhabi, is seeing strong traction, Kevin Miller says

Kevin Miller, vice president for global data centres at Amazon Web Services, said the region is witnessing strong growth in AI. Alvin Cabral / The National
Powered by automated translation

The UAE's push to develop artificial intelligence tools such as the Falcon large language model is helping to highlight the country's – and the wider region's – potential to become a major player in global technology, a top executive of Amazon Web Services has told The National.

Locally-developed AI models would serve Middle Eastern users well, at corporate and individual levels, as the developers have an up-front view of user requirements, Kevin Miller, vice president for global data centres at AWS, said in an interview.

“Clearly, Falcon is part of the conversation around core foundational models … that alone tells you there's a lot of capability in the Middle East to build game and world-changing technical capabilities,” he said, on the sidelines of the AWS Summit in Dubai on Wednesday.

“It's already shown that it is a strong powerhouse in this space … and absolutely puts the Middle East on the [AI] map.”

The rise of the Middle East as a technology centre is also reflected in the amount of investment flowing in, particularly from the West, on the back of a young and educated workforce and “real interest in start-ups”, Mr Miller said.

“There is also an enterprise customer population that is really interested in transforming their businesses … we're definitely seeing the right combination of factors that are very exciting for the Middle East.”

Falcon is the LLM developed by the Technology Innovation Institute, the Abu Dhabi government-backed research centre.

LLMs are types of generative artificial intelligence that can imitate human intelligence. They can distinguish, review, translate, forecast and produce new content – text, audio or visual – using large data sets.

Earlier this month, the Technology Innovation Institute (TII) introduced its latest iteration, Falcon 2, to compete with the likes of models developed by Meta, Google and OpenAI.

The TII, which is the applied research pillar of the UAE capital’s Advanced Technology Research Council, said the new series is multilingual and has been tested against several prominent AI models.

Another Abu Dhabi-made LLM, Jais, has also gained traction. Developed by local AI major G42, it was released in 2023 in collaboration with the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence and Silicon Valley-based Cerebras Systems.

“It's really smart for universities and countries to be investing in foundational research and development in this space,” Mr Miller said.

The UAE, the Arab world's second-biggest economy, has continued to emphasise its goal of becoming a leader in the AI industry, as it diversifies away from oil.

The development of LLMs in the Emirates has received worldwide attention, underpinned by government efforts to encourage the sector's growth, consultancy PwC previously told The National.

Generative AI's transformative capability is a key foundational technology “that is going to have decades of innovation” coming with it, Mr Miller said.

“It's meaningfully different from some things that have shown up as fads, in part because it really solves problems that customers have today.”

AWS, the cloud computing unit of the world's biggest e-commerce marketplace, has its Amazon Q generative AI platform, announced at its re:Invent conference in Las Vegas in November.

Amazon had largely maintained a low profile as the generative AI boom raged on, but chief executive Andy Jassy, in his annual letter to shareholders in April, acknowledged that the technology would be the next big thing.

The Seattle-based company has been able to launch more capabilities for its generative AI product, which is going head-to-head with Google's Gemini and industry leader OpenAI's ChatGPT.

AWS does not have any immediate plans to open more data centres, but it continues to track customer forecast and demand “every week” so it can plan expansion accordingly, Mr Miller said.

The latest major project to be opened in the Middle East will be AWS's infrastructure region in Saudi Arabia, announced at February's Leap technology conference in Riyadh.

AWS will invest $5.3 billion in Saudi Arabia and establish two innovation centres in the kingdom, the company said.

The company established data centres in Bahrain and the UAE in 2019 and 2022, respectively.

“We're seeing really nice demand for our services in the Middle East and we … continue building the capacity that they need,” Mr Miller said.

Updated: May 29, 2024, 12:06 PM