As AI-driven technologies are becoming increasingly popular around the world, some of the Middle Eastern countries are aiming at positioning themselves as the new centers for it.
This is particularly the case of Saudi Arabia. In September, the country held its first AI Summit in Riyadh, which marketed the country as the global AI-hub. As part of the event, a number of multi-million memorandums were signed, as well as a few dozen of conceptual charters.
While the UAE has focused on the metaverse, with its recent Dubai Metaverse Assembly, Saudi Arabia decided to focus on AI. Nazmi Al-Nasr, CEO of NEOM, even called AI the "beating heart" of NEOM. So what is so special about AI that makes Saudi decision makers to consider it the key to future economic success?
Throughout its history, Saudi Arabia has always focused on the mineral resource, with oil being the main driver of its economy. With the generation change in the Saudi ruling family, the kingdom has embarked on a massive economic diversification effort. In this way, Saudi Arabia looks to employ all the opportunities the Fourth industrial revolution offers the developing countries.
The fourth industrial revolution is about digital technologies manipulating the physical world. Since KSA has been always focused on the material world, it seems like the time has come to put forward the digital one. The Industry 4.0. is all about a high-tech approach to production that includes robotics, 3D printing, self-driving cars, the Internet of Things, Internet of Goods, as well as AI.
As Saudi Arabia, tries to position itself as the new global power, it looks to AI as a way to jumpstart its economy and move away from its hydrocarbons-based economic model that implied being at the lower end of global value chains. The Fourth industrial revolution has the potential to reorganise the international distribution of power, therefore, KSA may well see itself being the frontman of this reorganization.
How can the Kingdom put this concept of change into life? First, it is shaping the agenda and trying to set the rules for the deployment of this technology. Second, it attracts major players in the field to the country to launch joint ventures and thus, facilitate the technology transfer process.
The second edition of the Global AI Summit, that took place in Riyadh on September 13-15, witnessed a number of panel discussion with key stakeholders in the industry that discussed the different ways of applying AI, ranging from climate change to crowd management of pilgrims. The summit took place under the slogan “AI for the Good of Humanity.”
The country also proposed a broad set of rules of conduct in the industry that are expected to benefit all the participants. The so called “AI Ethics principles”, presented at the Forum, were one of the many initiatives that aim to support the kingdom’s efforts related to adopting AI technology, encouraging research and innovation, and driving economic growth. The seven AI ethics principles are fairness, privacy and security, humanity, social & environmental benefits, reliability and safety, transparency and explainability, and accountability and responsibility.
Dr Majid Altuwaijri, CEO of the National Centre for AI, stated during the announcement of the document:
The AI Ethics principles will also help us ensure that we implement these capabilities in a measured, data-responsible and ethical way.
At the Summit, the country also put forth the Riyadh AI Call for Action Declaration (RAICA), which seeks to use AI technology to benefit people, communities, nations, and the world. The Declaration was further signed by the members of Digital Cooperation Organization – another instrument with which the kingdom aims to advance its AI agenda. The recently founded organization includes mostly the countries that enjoy warm relations with Saudi Arabia: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Nigeria. In September it was announced the DCO would found its HQ in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia. also, is one of the earliest counties to adopt UNESCO’s Recommendation on the ethics of artificial intelligence.
In 2020, the Saudi government earmarked $20 billion for the advancement of AI.
We aspire to have artificial intelligence as a component of an alternative economy through startups and innovation companies... and view artificial intelligence as a source of savings and additional income,
Abdullah al-Ghamdi, head of the Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority, said during a G20 media briefing.
As part of this strategy, during the recent summit, the Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence (SCAI) announced an investment of $776 million in a joint venture with China’s SenseTime to develop the AI ecosystem. With this agreement the SCAI aims to develop national capabilities and build a robust, innovation-driven AI ecosystem. Under the agreement, the agency will operate an AI lab which will serve as a dedicated research and development center, “allowing the next generation of data scientists to benefit from the transfer of technology”, as stated in the press release. In this way, the country aims to facilitate the swift transition of not only technologies, but rather human talent and skills.
During the summit, Saudi Aramco, the biggest oil company in the world, has launched a new strategic project entitled “Aramco Global AI Corridor” that aims to build and commercialize the AI ecosystem of the Kingdom.
The Corridor is designed to develop and commercialize complex AI solutions, to train Saudi talent, support Saudi start-ups and, together with global partners, build a local AI ecosystem. This will include an AI Delivery Factory, AI Academy, AI Venturing Studio, and unique R&D AI labs,
said Amin Nasser, president and CEO of Aramco during his keynote speech, which highlighted the company’s efforts to increase the human capital in the kingdom.
Against this backdrop, Saudi Aramco signed an agreement valued at $250 million with Beyond Limits, a California-based AI company, that will help build the corridor. This will help “build a strong network of AI entrepreneurs and unicorn” in Saudi Arabia, as Amjad Abdullat, CEO of Beyond Limits, noted.
Thus, the two components of Saudi AI strategy seem to work pretty well for now, with new investments and technologies pouring into the kingdom. It remains to be seen whether this strategy will work as the global recession looms.