At Riyadh Forum, thinkers say space may be ‘home’ sooner than we think

A keynote speech by Eng. Mishaal Ashemimry, moderated by Prof. Nicolas de Warren of Penn State University, championed the commission’s pillar of providing contemporary applications to theories, urging the futuristic concept of becoming an interplanetary species. (AN/Huda Bashatah)
Short Url
Updated 03 December 2022

At Riyadh Forum, thinkers say space may be ‘home’ sooner than we think

  • With participation from over 19 countries, the platform targets wide audience from various backgrounds
  • This year’s conference is building off the success of last year’s event which discussed unpredictability

RIYADH: The second edition of the Riyadh Philosophy Conference launched on Thursday as international and local specialists gathered to discuss topics under the theme “Knowledge and Exploration: Space, Time and Humanity.”

Organized by Saudi Arabia’s Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, the three-day event kicked off with welcome remarks by Saudi critic, thinker and translator Saad bin Abdulrahman Albazie, who was introduced by the CEO of the commission, Mohammed Alwan.

With participation from over 19 countries, the global platform targets a wide audience from various academic and professional backgrounds.

“We are heading toward endless informational and explorational horizons, toward space, time and humanity, and settling into our human fate, moral values and scientific criteria of the universe,” Albazie said.

“We will create a philosophical space out of our physical space, and propose new concepts in an undiscovered field in the spirit of entrepreneurial research that has been touched upon by this conference’s esteemed guests.”

While taking a trip to space is, undoubtedly, a dream for many, it may well be a place we call “home” much sooner than we think.

A keynote speech by Mishaal Ashemimry, moderated by Prof. Nicolas de Warren of Penn State University, examined the futuristic concept of humanity becoming an interplanetary species.

Discussing humanity’s options if Earth is no longer accommodating or habitable, Ashemimry, special adviser to the CEO at the Saudi Space Commission, said: “We must prepare for our future because no one knows. Yes, we can monitor all these items that are orbiting Earth, but there are so many that we don’t know about.

“I’m not suggesting that this is the only way. I am suggesting that we need to hedge our bets, invest in all the technologies necessary and all the possible solutions to prevent this existential problem — whether it’s going to Mars or preparing to go to Mars, or whether it’s intercepting that asteroid, and having mechanisms to detect it sooner and enable us to have enough time.”

The conversation around space continued with Abdullah Al-Ghathami, professor of criticism and theory at King Saud University, delivering a keynote speech under the title “Humanity in Space: Glory or Power.”

Leading thinkers took part in panel discussions, including “Inquiry Techniques in the Classroom” by General Manager of the Baseera Institute Dalia Toonsi, and “Chaos and Logos” with physicist Reem Taibah and Saudi Space Commission adviser Haithem Al-Twaijry.

This year’s conference is building off the success of last year’s event, which discussed unpredictability.

The forum aims to open up the once-taboo study of philosophy in the region by involving contemporary philosophers, scientists, writers and intellectuals from all over the world.

Discussions in the coming days will focus on the status of contemporary science, the complexities of space diplomacy and climate change, justice and ethics in exploration, and the dilemmas of artificial intelligence.

How digital boost for braille literacy is helping people with visual impairments across the Arab world

Updated 04 February 2023

How digital boost for braille literacy is helping people with visual impairments across the Arab world

  • Prices of once expensive electronic braille devices are falling, demand for software is growing
  • Educators in Saudi Arabia are adopting assistive tech to include students with visual disabilities

JEDDAH: Digital technologies are transforming the way in which people of all languages and backgrounds communicate, making work, study and socializing across national and cultural boundaries easier and more inclusive.

However, many of the latest innovations in communications technology have tended to be geared toward smartphones, tablets and e-readers — formats that are not always conducive to people with visual impairments.

Now, recent enhancements to a 200-year-old system of writing are helping people with visual disabilities feel included in a greater variety of jobs and fields of study and forms of entertainment.

French inventor Louis Braille, who lost his sight at the age of three, in 1824 developed a system of communication consisting of a code of 63 characters, each made up of one to six raised dots arranged in a six-position matrix or cell, designed to fit under a fingertip.

These characters, known as braille, are embossed in lines on paper and read by passing the fingers lightly over the manuscript. From alphabets to musical notation, braille opened a world of possibilities for the visually impaired.

According to the World Health Organization, around 40 million people worldwide are blind, while another 250 million have some form of visual impairment. A survey conducted in 2017 by Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics found that some 811,610 Saudis are visually impaired.

A unified Arabic braille code was adopted in the 1950s as part of the move toward a universal braille system. This has allowed many of them to live, work and study unsupported.

Authorities in the Kingdom have taken measures to create a more inclusive society, using braille on the packaging of medicines and by establishing work programs to integrate the visually impaired into the workforce.

The Kingdom has also established branches of Al-Noor Institute for the Blind, which provide courses for school children, in addition to integrated classes in universities through a national program that guarantees the right to an education.

A student at a school for the blind in Riyadh is pictured operating a machine in a photograph taken on April 25, 1967. (Getty Images)

Speaking to Arab News, Khaled Al-Harbi, spokesperson for the National Association of the Blind, known as Kafeef, said education paved the way for those with special needs to become an integral part of their communities.

Kafeef’s mission, he said, is to empower people with visual impairments through programs launched in coordination with government and private entities.

“I, like many members, received moral support and guidance from Kafeef from a young age, and enrolled in programs,” Al-Harbi told Arab News.

“We were provided tools, learned new skills using our hands, and, with time, we launched several awareness programs and braille training courses for the visually impaired and visually acute with the latest — Iqra — the first certified braille training program.

“We’ve seen lately several initiatives that target the community, such as sending gift cards in braille, and it’s very commendable, but it can also go the other way. There is a need for more inclusion from the visually impaired to utilize technology for their benefit and the benefit of the community.”

As digital developers have tended to prioritize audio software, such as screen-reading programs on computers and smartphones, some argue that braille has become a less important tool for people with visual impairments.

However, researchers believe learning braille from an early age can greatly improve literacy, as it is a much better way to understand punctuation, grammar, and spelling than using audio resources alone.

For many years, electronic braille devices were prohibitively expensive, placing them out of reach of many people with visual impairments, particularly those in developing countries. Now prices are beginning to fall and the demand for new software is growing.

The first braille displays appeared in the mid-1970s, and the first commercially produced braille display, the VersaBraille, was released in 1982. Five years later, the Braille ‘n Speak was released as the first portable notetaker.

Newer refreshable braille devices make it possible for users to read text from a digital screen when connected to a PC, tablet or phone. Such devices mimic the familiar raised dot patterns using tiny movable pins.


811,000 people in Saudi Arabia have some form of vision disability, according to the GSTAT Disability Survey 2017.

A unified Arabic braille code was adopted in the 1950s as part of the move toward a universal braille system.

However, with such a heavy reliance on cables and bluetooth connectivity, these systems are not always the most practical or user friendly. Furthermore, physical braille keyboards that allow users to enter text are not particularly mobile.

It was these drawbacks that led Google to develop its own innovative built-in keyboard called TalkBack, which comes as a part of the Android Operating System and does not require any external hardware.

In 2018, Google also launched an AI-powered app called Lookout to help low-vision users interact with their surroundings. The app can read signs and labels, scan barcodes, and even identify currencies.

In 2014, Apple introduced its own on-screen braille keyboard for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices called iBrailler Notes.

The app enables users to navigate across text and perform tasks without connecting additional hardware. One striking feature of the app is that the keys automatically form around the fingertips when they are placed on the screen.

Many new braille technologies are yet to reach the market and several are still in the conceptual or prototype phase. New scanning features, audio descriptions, language identifiers, machine-learning tools, text mining, and speech processors could all soon appear in forthcoming assistive technologies.

Abdulrahman Al-Atawi, a professor at the college of computing and informatics and supervisor of the Center for Innovation in E-learning at the Saudi Electronic University, the first university in the Kingdom to exclusively adopt e-learning strategies and technologies, told Arab News that such technologies will play a significant part in students’ journeys.

In January, the Global Trends in E-Learning forum was held in Riyadh, where global leaders in the education sector shared their insights, exchanged experiences and discussed strategies to serve the online learning process.

As part of the forum’s objectives, a contest for EdTech entrepreneurs, faculty and students from across the Kingdom showcased innovative projects using emerging technologies to serve the education sector.

Al-Atawi, who also headed the Committee for the Innovation Oasis and GTEL Demofest, said some of the winning projects were focused on people with special needs.

“For many, the braille code allows the blind and visually impaired to read any form of writing, but when it comes to images and pictures, that’s another story,” he said.

“One of the winning projects, a smart reader for the visually impaired, found a solution to that, verbally describing that image.

“In this era of modern science, we wish to get every bit of information in digital form. With the right tools, we can help members of the special needs community.”


Saudi school throws farewell party for Pakistani student returning home after family tragedy 

Updated 03 February 2023

Saudi school throws farewell party for Pakistani student returning home after family tragedy 

  • Ahmed’s family, who were residents of KSA, decided to return to Pakistan following death of his father 
  • Faculty, students at Ahmed’s school threw him a warm farewell party followed by a cake-cutting ceremony 

ISLAMABAD: A primary school in Saudi Arabia’s Bisha governorate is being lauded on social media for throwing a warm farewell party to a Pakistani student, who was returning to his home country following the death of his father. 

A viral video of the farewell party, uploaded on Twitter by the Bisha education department and several other prominent Saudi Twitter accounts, showed teachers and students at a primary school bidding farewell to the student, Ahmed. 

A teacher could be seen escorting the child to a hall in the school for a cake-cutting ceremony as his schoolmates lined up in the hallway. 

“We are humans! This is how our school staff, including faculty and students, bade farewell to our son, Ahmed, from the Pakistani community, as he leaves our country, Saudi Arabia, for his country Pakistan,” the Bisha education department said in a Twitter post this week. 

Prominent Saudi media personality Faisal Abdul Kareem also tweeted the video and provided some details about the party, saying that Ahmed had been residing in the Kingdom with his family. 

But his family decided to return to Pakistan upon the death of his father. 

“The administration and teachers of his school in Bisha organized a touching farewell party for him in the presence of the students,” Kareem wrote. 

“Humanity, reparation, and a tender touch. A love situation that his memory will carry throughout his life from the Kingdom of humanity.” 

Saudi Arabia is a longtime ally of Pakistan and home to nearly 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates, who live and work in the Kingdom and remit around $6.5 billion annually to the South Asian country. 

KSrelief continues aid distribution in Pakistan, five other countries

Updated 03 February 2023

KSrelief continues aid distribution in Pakistan, five other countries

  • The Saudi aid agency distributed 400 food packages for 2,800 people in Pakistan’s Sindh
  • In Yemen, the relief center delivered 70 tons and 299 kilograms of food, benefiting 1,533

DUBAI: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) distributed 600 food packages to those affected by the floods in Afghanistan. 

In cooperation with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), KSRelief helped 3,600 people in-need in the war-torn country, state agency SPA reported. 

In Yemen, the relief center delivered 70 tons and 299 kilograms of food, benefiting 1,533 individuals in the country’s Taiz governorate. 

KSRelief also provided 500 food parcels 3,541 to underprivileged people in Sudan and 400 food packages to 2,800 people in Pakistan’s Sindh province. 

Similarly, Niger’s capital Niamey received a shipment from the organization containing 500 food packages, which benefited 4,924 people in-need. 

Meanwhile, the relief center gave 1,060 Syria and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon vouchers to purchase winter clothing as part of its Kanaf Project. 

People from host communities located in several Lebanese regions also benefited from the initiative.

AlUla: the perfect destination for Saudi cycling

Updated 02 February 2023

AlUla: the perfect destination for Saudi cycling

  • 2.1 category Union Cyclists event being organized across the region

ALULA: The third edition of the Saudi Tour cycling race, currently taking place and being broadcast on the Experience AlUla YouTube channel, shows AlUla’s ambition to become the cycling capital of the Kingdom.

AlUla is the perfect location to take Saudi cycling to the next level, according to the coaching staff behind the Saudi Cycling Federation team, speaking exclusively to Arab News on the sidelines of the 2.1 category Union Cyclists International event, which is taking place across the region from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. 

The Saudi Cycling Federation team has enjoyed a wonderful learning experience mixing in the peloton with UCI World Tour teams such as Team Jayco AlUla, Astana Qazaqstan Team, Bahrain Victorious, Cofidis, Movistar Team, Team DSM and UAE Team Emirates. 

Five-time Tour de France stage winner Dylan Groenewegen of Team Jayco AlUla, two-time Cycling Monument winner John Degenkolb, and Jonathan Milan of Cofidis have all demonstrated their abilities during the race, providing the Saudi team of Hassan Al-Jumah, Abdulaziz Hashim, Hani Al-Mhrhoon, Azzam Al-Abdulmunim, and Murthada Al-Shaghab with priceless riding experience. 

Salem Al-Salem, a vital member of the coaching team, told Arab News: “I am from Saudi Arabia, and since I was born in 1980, I have gone to cities all over the Kingdom, and AlUla looks incredible. It is a beautiful venue for hosting a world-class cycling event such as the Saudi Tour. 

This has been a real learning curve for the team and me, and I think that AlUla is the perfect place to move to the next level. It has everything necessary for a training camp, from the accommodation, food, and facilities to the right cycling conditions,” he added. 

The Royal Commission for AlUla recently signed a deal to become a second named sponsor of the Australian-based Team Jayco AlUla, the UCI World Tour team currently considered among the top three teams in the world. 

The partnership aims to put the destination of AlUla on the map for 1.7 billion road cycling spectators around the globe. The cyclists and teams in the Saudi Tour are finding out for themselves exactly what the destination has to offer. 

Al-Salem added: “I don’t think you can imagine how important this will be for developing cyclists from Saudi Arabia. AlUla would be perfect for training camps, national races, one and two-day events, and even international races. When I look at AlUla and the facilities and infrastructure here, I can’t see how we would want to train anywhere else from December to March each year.” 

As well as giving the riders top-level experience, the Saudi Tour has showcased the stunning landscapes, natural beauty and ancient history of AlUla, with the five stages passing the area’s extraordinary sights, including preserved tombs, historic dwellings and monuments, both man-made and natural, and geological formations that hold 200,000 years of largely unexplored human history. 

The first stage was a 180-km sprint leg that showcased both the evolving infrastructure and heritage of the region, starting at the redeveloped AlUla International Airport and finishing in the stunning landscape of Khaybar, featuring rare white volcanoes, lava fields, caves and wadis with freshwater springs supporting an abundance of plant and animal life. 

The second stage was a 184-km sprint from Winter Park through Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, which finished up at Shalal Sijlyat Rocks, an area of natural wonder and dramatic rock formations. Wednesday’s third stage was a 159.2-km journey from the Al-Manshiyah Train Station to Abu Rakah via short climbs. 

The architectural splendor of Maraya offered a unique backdrop for the start of the 163.4-km fourth stage today, which will finish at the Skyviews of Harrat Uwayrid. In contrast, Friday’s fifth stage will provide a fitting finale, a 142.9-km ride that takes the peloton through the streets of AlUla Old Town and Al-Jadidah’s Arts and Culture District, before finishing up at Maraya.

Saudi Arabia’s many sports fans can follow the third edition live on the Experience AlUla YouTube channel:


Importance of boosting Gulf- French ties stressed

Updated 02 February 2023

Importance of boosting Gulf- French ties stressed

RIYADH: Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, stressed the importance of strengthening the Gulf-French strategic partnership, in a way that contributes to serving common interests.

He expressed these views during a meeting with the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna in Riyadh on Thursday.

The two sides discussed ways to strengthen the strategic partnership and Gulf-French relations and develop them in all fields, through the joint action plan for 2023-2028.

They also discussed several issues of common interest, in addition to following up on the latest regional and international developments.

The meeting was attended by the GCC assistant secretary for political affairs and negotiations, Dr. Abdulaziz Hamad Al-Owaisheg.