Sherzod Shermatov

While the AI industry debates the relative merits of open vs closed source models, developing countries are already embracing free open source AI as a way to bring their burgeoning homegrown IT skills up to speed.

“Open source AI is the way to go for developing countries,” said Sherzod Shermatov, Uzbekistan minister for digital technologies, during a visit to New York to promote the countries growing capabilities in IT outsourcing.

Shermatov’s comments come fresh on the heels of a new partnership to adopt the Falcon AI model developed by United Arab Emirates (UAE) for use in Uzbekistan. UAE created the $300-million non-profit Falcon Foundation in February to encourage the use of Falcon AI beyond the Middle East. Given its open source architecture, Shermatov said Uzbekistan plans to use the Falcon AI to help his country make a “leapfrog” jump in developing its own AI model.

The Falcon AI founder and executive team are originally from the United States, while the AI model takes its name from the locally popular sport of falconry. One of the first applications of royalty-free Falcon AI was to provide biosecurity insights for poultry farmers and improve food supply in the region.

“We’re committed to fostering transparency and collaboration in AI,” says Falcon Foundation CEO Ray Johnson. UAE also has earmarked $200 million to foster technological developments in six sectors: Aerospace and space, food and agriculture, health care, safety and security, sustainability, environment and energy and transport.

Meanwhile, the growing interest in AI by developing countries is not lost on tech; behemoth Microsoft announced it would “democratize” access to its AI computing infrastructure and tools to encourage the development of AI economies. Microsoft’s “AI Access Principles” are guidelines that would make the company’s open source AI “accessible to companies around the world to use so that they can invest in their own AI inventions,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s vice chair and president told Euronews Next at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February.

Many developing countries are keen to grow their digital economies. Uzbekistan, for its part, is fast-tracking its own IT growth with an emphasis on the in-country IT education of a multi-lingual (five million English speakers), youthful population and special programs initiated by the country’s IT Park arm designed to attract foreign companies interested in outsourcing.

While the United States remains an important source of outsourcing clients, Uzbekistan has been increasing its business with the Arab world. One measure of the country’s success is that the capitol of Tashkent is basically full from an IT standpoint, as a government “zero risk” program is now available only in other regions. Uzbekistan has benefited from an influx of thousands of Russian IT professionals who have migrated to Uzbekistan in the wake of the conflict with Ukraine. Some 1700 companies are now affiliated with IT Park, with 400 being start-ups, according to Shermatov.