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Saudi Arabia Plans $40 Billion Push Into Artificial Intelligence

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The Middle Eastern country is creating a gigantic fund to invest in A.I. technology, potentially becoming the largest player in the hot market.

Two people interact with a robot placed in front of a digital screen, in a crowded room.

Visitors interact with Saudi Arabia’s first robot “Sara”, at the LEAP conference in Riyadh, February 8, 2023.Credit…Ahmed Yosri/Reuters

The government of Saudi Arabia plans to create a fund of about $40 billion to invest in artificial intelligence, according to three people briefed on the plans — the latest sign of the gold rush toward a technology that has already begun reshaping how people live and work.

In recent weeks, representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund have discussed a potential partnership with Andreessen Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms, and other financiers, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly. They cautioned that the plans could still change.

The planned tech fund would make Saudi Arabia the world’s largest investor in artificial intelligence. It would also showcase the oil-rich nation’s global business ambitions as well as its efforts to diversify its economy and establish itself as a more influential player in geopolitics. The Middle Eastern nation is pursuing those goals through its sovereign wealth fund, which has assets of more than $900 billion.

Officials from the Saudi fund have discussed the role Andreessen Horowitz — already an active investor in A.I. and whose co-founder Ben Horowitz is friends with the fund’s governor — could play and how such a fund would work, the people said. The $40 billion target would dwarf the typical amounts raised by U.S. venture capital firms and would be eclipsed only by SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that has long been the world’s largest investor in start-ups.

The Saudi tech fund, which is being put together with the help of Wall Street banks, will be the latest potential entrant into a field already awash in cash. The global frenzy around artificial intelligence has pushed up the valuations of private and public companies as bullish investors race to find or build the next Nvidia or OpenAI. The start-up Anthropic, for instance, raised more than $7 billion in one year alone — a flood of money virtually unheard-of in the venture capital world.

The cost of funding A.I. projects is steep. Sam Altman, the chief executive of OpenAI, has reportedly sought a huge sum from the United Arab Emirates government to boost manufacturing of chips needed to power A.I. technology.

Saudi representatives have mentioned to potential partners that the country is looking to back an array of tech start-ups tied to artificial intelligence, including chip makers and the expensive, expansive data centers that are increasingly necessary to power the next generation of computing, according to four people with knowledge of those efforts, who were not authorized to speak publicly. It has even considered starting its own A.I. companies.

Two of the people said that Saudi’s new investment push is likely to take off in the second half of 2024. A $40 billion fund could make both the Saudi Arabian government and Andreessen Horowitz key players in races to corner various businesses related to the field.

Mr. Horowitz and Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund, have discussed the possibility of the Silicon Valley firm setting up an office in the country’s capital, Riyadh, one person with knowledge of the conversations said.

Other venture capitalists may participate in the kingdom’s tech fund, two people briefed on the plans said.

Partly because of its enormous financial clout and growing ambitions, those in international business circles closely monitor moves made by the Public Investment Fund, which was created in 1971.

In 2018, just as Saudi Arabia was becoming a major destination for investment firms and entrepreneurs seeking financial backing, the country’s agents killed the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, which for a spell seemed to damage the nation’s reputation among international financiers.

In 2022, the Saudi government invested billions into a firm run by former President Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, among others, which was seen by many as a political move. One of its recent deals to merge its LIV Golf upstart with the PGA Tour raised the ire of golfers, but the pact is also controversial in part because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Saudi Arabia, which poured $3.5 billion into Uber in 2016, has largely struggled with technology investing. It handed $45 billion to SoftBank for the Japanese firm’s $100 billion Vision fund, which was channeled into dozens of enterprises including the now-bankrupt real estate firm WeWork and other failed start-ups, such as the robotic pizza-making company Zume.

Many in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street have welcomed the nation back into the fold. During this year’s Super Bowl, Mr. Horowitz hosted Mr. al-Rumayyan, according to two people briefed on their activities.

The two men also spent time together before and after the game, the people said, with Mr. Horowitz giving Mr. al-Rumayyan tours of Las Vegas, his adopted city, and introducing the investor to his friends in music and sports.

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