Head of OpenAI, creator of ChatGPT, intends to attract $5-7 trillion to produce chips for AI development

February 15, 2024  10:31

OpenAI's CEO, Sam Altman, is in negotiations with investors, including those from the UAE, to secure $5-7 trillion for the production of AI-focused chips. The funding aims to address the shortage of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), crucial for training language models like ChatGPT, Microsoft Copilot, and Google Gemini. Altman proposes a partnership between OpenAI, investors, chip manufacturers, and power suppliers to jointly invest in building chip manufacturing plants, with OpenAI becoming a major customer. 

Altman seeks to significantly expand global semiconductor manufacturing capabilities to support the growing demand for GPUs and other AI-focused chips. While GPUs excel in parallel computations, essential for running AI models, the industry faces a substantial shortage of these vital components, limiting the potential for AI development and applications. 

The involvement of the UAE, led by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a key security official and chairman of various structures in Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth, reflects global interest in AI's potential and the strategic importance of semiconductor production. However, concerns arise that substantial UAE investments in this technology sector may lead to geopolitical issues, especially considering the strategic priorities of the U.S. government in semiconductor production and AI development.

The U.S. exercises caution in allowing foreign control over chip supplies due to their importance for the digital economy and national security. The Biden administration is taking measures to support domestic semiconductor production, including subsidies and foreign investment control in critical technologies by foreign regulatory bodies.

For instance, the White House announced a $5 billion investment in research and development to promote American semiconductor technologies. TSMC also invested $40 billion, one of the largest foreign investments in U.S. history, in an American chip manufacturing plant in Arizona. In light of these initiatives, Altman's plan to attract $5-7 trillion seems daunting.

Environmental experts also express concerns about the impact of this ambitious plan. They note that its implementation will require a substantial amount of natural resources, such as water and rare metals. For instance, in September 2023, AI tools increased Microsoft's water consumption by 34%, and training OpenAI GPT-3 consumed 700 thousand liters of water. Another issue is the rapid obsolescence of old models with the release of new GPUs, leading to their disposal. Overall, it is argued that the environmental impact of AI remains opaque today, and Altman's project is unlikely to improve this situation.

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