UAE releases new Falcon AI model to challenge Meta, OpenAI

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A research arm of the Abu Dhabi government has released an updated version of Falcon, its artificial intelligence model, that a senior official said outperforms rivals and proves the emirate is a “serious player” in the global AI race.

Falcon is a large language model like OpenAI’s GPT and Google’s Gemini — computing systems that power chatbots, image generators and other generative AI tools.

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First launched in 2023, Falcon is open-source, which means its code is shared widely. Its new version, Falcon 2 11B, is more powerful than the latest comparable open-source model from Meta Platforms Inc. and is on par with Gemini by some metrics, according to the Technology Innovation Institute, or TII, the Abu Dhabi group behind Falcon.

“We were able to achieve way higher performance than a lot of the bigger guys,” Faisal Al Bannai, the secretary general of the Advanced Technology Research Council, the government entity that funds TII, said in an interview. “And at a fraction of their compute and a fraction of their team size.”

The United Arab Emirates is making a concerted top-down push into AI, framing the technology as the next pillar of its economy after oil. The Gulf nation has introduced a slew of new businesses and an AI investment vehicle that could reach $100 billion.

While the UAE and Saudi Arabia have announced ambitious AI investment plans, both Gulf nations have had to import much of their engineering expertise and are just beginning to apply generative AI tools into businesses. A representative for TII said the first version of Falcon was downloaded more than 43 million times as of the first quarter of the year. Meta has said that its most recent Llama model received 170 million downloads.

Last November, the Advanced Technology Research Council announced the formation of AI71, a new company focused on commercializing Falcon. Al Bannai said AI71 has already begun to trial the tech inside hospitals, law firms and call centers with UAE partners and plans to expand outside the country soon.

He declined to share how much the government has invested in developing Falcon, but said a team of about 60 researchers works on several AI services for TII.

The new Falcon version also has “vision-to-language capabilities” — a tool that let computers convert images fluently into text, according to TII. This ability is key to certain business applications Abu Dhabi foresees for Falcon, according to Al Bannai. It can complete tasks in languages including English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese.

“Analyzing an X-ray of someone’s chest, analyzing a document for education, analyzing a construction document – we’re trying to focus on very clear enterprise use cases that can have a serious impact,” he said.

Going forward, the official said the AI system’s development will fall under a new organization, called the Falcon Foundation, modeled after the software nonprofit Linux Foundation. Al Bannai said this will include a charter to ensure that Falcon “will stay forever open-source.” He said another version of the model will be released in the next two months.

Earlier on Monday, the Abu Dhabi AI firm G42, which counts Microsoft Corp. as a backer, unveiled a new app for Jais, its Arabic-language AI chatbot.

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