How Saudi Arabia is indigenizing the AI revolution and future-proofing its workforce

Saudi Arabia is determined to future-proof its workforce, for a start by training and developing a pool of 20,000 AI and data specialists. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 September 2023

How Saudi Arabia is indigenizing the AI revolution and future-proofing its workforce

  • Digitalization and emerging technologies are forecast to contribute some 2.4 percent to the Kingdom’s GDP by 2030
  • Saudi Arabia’s investments in technology align with the objectives of the Vision 2030 economic diversification agenda

JEDDAH: In the coming years, artificial intelligence technology is expected to transform economies, business practices and the way people live, work and consume. Conscious of these potentially momentous changes on the horizon, Saudi Arabia is pouring investments into AI research and development.

The Kingdom launched its National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence in October 2020 aimed at becoming a global leader in the field, as it seeks to attract $20 billion in foreign and local investments by 2030.

Saudi Arabia is also determined to future-proof its workforce, for a start by training and developing a pool of 20,000 AI and data specialists.

Riyadh’s adoption of digitalization and emerging technologies is forecast to contribute some 2.4 percent to its gross domestic product by 2030, according to a recent report by global consultancy firm PwC.

In this file picture, the chief of the General Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques, Abdul-Rahman al-Sudais, is shown inaugurating the “Information” robot, which would be available in the Grand Mosque and will provide visitors with general information, lectures, lessons, Khutbahs and information about imams and muadhins. (Courtesy: General Presidency of Haramain)

In terms of average annual growth in the contribution of AI by region, Saudi Arabia is expected to grab a 31.3 percent share in the technology’s expansion between 2018 and 2030, the PwC report added.

“I believe that Saudi Arabia has a huge potential,” Ali Al-Moussa, a Saudi entrepreneur and AI expert, told Arab News.

“Being in the field for years now, I saw a lot of smart, talented people who are able to compete with (others around) the globe to create great technologies, not only artificial intelligence, but everything from robotics to blockchain, you name it.”

Saudi Arabia’s drive toward new technologies aligns with the objectives of the Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification agenda, which aims to strengthen the Kingdom’s position as the regional leader in the field.

Saudi Arabia’s youth are particularly adaptable to technology and are eagerly experimenting with these tools, says Saudi entrepreneur and AI expert Ali Almussa. (Supplied)

Al-Moussa says Vision 2030 has created a “lot of opportunity in the market,” empowering and enabling Saudi entrepreneurs to “imagine different applications” and to begin establishing tech startups.

“They build technologies, and they conduct research, and there is a lot of energy,” he said.

Interest in AI has boomed since ChatGPT, a large-language model developed by Microsoft-backed startup OpenAI, became a viral sensation when it was released in November 2022.

Conversations with the chatbot show that the program can explain complex scientific concepts, compose plays and poetry, generate university dissertations, and even write functional lines of computer code.

Its emergence kicked off fierce competition among Silicon Valley rivals for monetization of what software engineers call “generative AI,” including Google’s Bard, and more recently LLaMA developed by Facebook parent company Meta Platforms.

Meta recently released an AI model capable of translating and transcribing speech in dozens of languages, a potential building block for tools enabling real-time communication across language divides.

The company said in a blog post that its SeamlessM4T model could support translations between text and speech in nearly 100 languages, as well as full speech-to-speech translation for 35 languages, including Modern Standard Arabic.

A “guidance robot” has been developed to assist pilgrims and Umrah performers in understanding rituals and fatwas. (Supplied)

This and other more advanced programs are expected to transform decision-making, automation, and creative problem-solving across industries, from healthcare and finance to transportation and entertainment.

The emergence of these technologies will inevitably impact the labor market and make it necessary for nations to invest in training and education for their emerging workers, so that they have the tools to prosper in a fast-evolving economy.

“Saudi Arabia’s youth are particularly adaptable to technology and are eagerly experimenting with these tools,” said Al-Moussa.

To nurture this homegrown talent, the Kingdom is actively promoting AI competitions and “hackathons,” encouraging its researchers and students to tackle AI-related challenges to gain valuable hands-on experience.

Although the technology shows immense promise and seemingly limitless potential, experts have urged caution regarding the timing and approach to adopting AI technologies.

A report in March by investment bank Goldman Sachs predicted that AI could soon take the place of 300 million full-time jobs around the world, with 46 percent of administrative jobs and 44 percent of legal jobs risking replacement.

However, it also found that the rollout of AI could boost labor productivity and push global growth up by 7 percent year-on-year over a 10-year period.

Equipped with upper and lower cameras, specialized Zamzam distributing robots with laser sensors help it avoid any surrounding obstacles. (FILE/General Presidency of Haramain)

Al-Moussa says there are broadly two schools of thought about AI. The first views the technology as “complementary to our lives,” serving essentially as “an augmentation to our abilities.” This type of AI will not negatively impact the job market and, if anything, could enhance the way people live and work.

The other school of thought warns that AI will replace people’s jobs, will be “fast and intrusive,” and “all profit-driven,” causing harm to sections of society.

Rejecting the warnings of doomsayers about an “AI apocalypse,” Al-Moussa predicts that such programs will be primarily used for “repetitive tasks” that do not require “high intellect” or human input.

As part of Saudi Arabia’s preparation of the coming age of AI, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in June approved the establishment of the International Center for Artificial Intelligence Research and Ethics in Riyadh.

Introduced amid covid-19 pandemic, specialized robots roam the grounds of the Two Holy mosques distribute Zamzam water. (FILE/General Presidency of Haramain)

Earlier that same month, the Kingdom also established the Global Cybersecurity Forum Institute in Riyadh to harness the potential of cyberspace and support efforts to boost cybersafety on a global scale.

AI advocates have sought to address doubts surrounding the technology by emphasizing the critical importance of transparency and responsible usage.

Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no disputing that the popularity of AI applications in businesses is on the rise.

In May, the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority inaugurated the Center of Excellence for Generative Artificial Intelligence in partnership with the US computing firm Nvidia.

The authority also unveiled an AI chat application of its own capable of answering queries in Arabic known as Allam.

According to the Financial Times, Saudi Arabia recently bought as many as 3,000 of Nvidia’s H100 chips, which cost $40,000 each and are the first designed for generative AI, through the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

Achieving the goal of becoming an AI powerhouse will of course take time as widespread adoption of new systems requires the creation of an AI ecosystem and a strong culture of entrepreneurship.

Collaboration with international partners, investment in local talent, and adherence to global practices and standards in AI development are viewed as the best means of promoting Saudi initiatives in the field.

Al-Moussa believes there is an especially promising future in “homegrown technology” for Saudi Arabia, which will best reflect its language, culture and priorities.

“Nobody better understands us than us,” he said. “We grew up here. We know the culture. So, the kind of AI that can be developed at home is definitely closer to the culture, whether it is generative AI or something related to our environment. Because this kind of experience or this kind of intellect is unique to our country.

“You cannot imagine someone in a different part of the globe developing something for us better than us because we understand our power and our nature better than anyone else.”


GCC leaders say Israel violating international law in Gaza, demand end to occupation

Updated 06 December 2023

GCC leaders say Israel violating international law in Gaza, demand end to occupation

  • The 44th session of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Qatar was also attended by Turkish President Erdogan
  • Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani says his country is ‘constantly working to renew’ Israel-Hamas truce

RIYADH: Members of the GCC have condemned Israel for committing “clear violations” of international law and reitterated their demand for an end to the Israeli occupatiuon of the Palestinian territories.

In a statement issued at the end of the 44th session of the Gulf Cooperation Council on Tuesday, the leaders of the six nations condemned Israel’s ongoing military actions in Gaza, “which have led to the forced displacement of the civilian population, and the destruction of civilian facilities and infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, health facilities, and places of worship.”

The statement of decleration went on to say such actions were “in clear violation of international law and international humanitarian law,” and they expressed their dissatisfaction with the “blatant Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people”.

The summit, which was attended by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the lead member of the Saudi delegation, was in Qatar.

The representatives of the six Gulf nations were joined by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who said there had been $23bn worth of trade between Turkiye and the GCC countries.

He went on to condemn Israel’s continued bombardment of  the Gaza Strip, adding: “

Netanyahu is committing war crimes against humanity in Gaza.”

And he said that Netanyahu “is pushing the entire region into danger for the sake of his political future.”

The meeting of GCC leaders took place in Qatar as Israeli forces launched their long-awaited storm of the main city in the southern Gaza Strip, where hospitals were overrun with scores of Palestinian dead and wounded.

In what appeared to be the biggest ground assault since the truce collapsed last week, residents said Israeli tanks had entered the eastern parts of Khan Younis for the first time, crossing from the Israeli border fence and advancing west.

Some took up positions inside the town of Bani Suhaila on Khan Younis’ eastern outskirts, while others continued further and were stationed on the edge of a Qatari-funded housing development called Hamad City, residents said.

After days of ordering residents to flee the area, Israeli forces dropped new leaflets on Tuesday with instructions to stay inside shelters during the assault.

“In the coming hours, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will begin launching an intensive attack on your area of residence to destroy the terrorist organization Hamas," said the leaflets.

“Don’t move out yet. For your safety, stay in the shelters and the hospitals where you are. Don’t get out. Going out is dangerous. You have been warned.”

But Israel’s bombardment has driven 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents from their homes, most fleeing south – an area more densely populated than London.

And according to Gaza health officials deemed reliable by the United Nations, more than 15,800 people are confirmed dead, with thousands more missing and feared buried under rubble.

The declaration went onto to call for the immediate resumption of a humanitarian truce in the Gaza Strip in order to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and the assurance of that all humanitarian aid would reach its intended destinations.

The declaration went onto to call for the immediate resumption of a humanitarian truce in the Gaza Strip in order to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and the assurance of that all humanitarian aid would reach its intended destinations.

The summit pledged its ongoing support for the Palestinian people and its continued support to alleviate the suffering of the residents of the Gaza Strip.

The GCC statement also agreed to help rebuild “what the Israeli war machine destroyed in its attacks on the Strip during the past years.”

The GCC leaders warned that if the war continued there was a danger of the conflict expanding to other regions in the Middle East, something it warned would lead to “dire consequences for the peoples of the region and for international peace and security.”

And they called on the international community to intervene to establish a ceasefire and protect civilians.

The council reiterated its demand for an end to the occupation of Palestine, and its support for the sovereignty of the Palestinian people over all the occupied territories.

It praised Saudi Arabia’s continued efforts and its initiative in partnership with the Arab League, the European Union, the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to revive the peace process, in accordance with international law, United Nations resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.

Earlier in his opening remarks, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani called on the UN Security Council to force Israel to return to the negotiating table over the war in Gaza.

“It is shameful for the international community to allow this heinous crime to continue for nearly two months, during which the systematic and deliberate killing of innocent civilians continues, including women and children,” he said at the summit. 

The Qatari ruler said his country was “constantly working to renew” the truce, which he added was “not an alternative to a permanent ceasefire”.

He called for “an international investigation into the massacres committed by Israel” and condemned the targeting of civilians of all nationalities and religions.

The GCC council released a declaration at the end of the summit, with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani saying that their primary goal now is to stop the war in Gaza, adding that mediation talks on Gaza are still ongoing.  

The minister reiterated how it is unacceptable to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the besieged strip.

(With Reuters)

Saudi-French Parliamentary Friendship Committee members discuss enhanced cooperation

Updated 06 December 2023

Saudi-French Parliamentary Friendship Committee members discuss enhanced cooperation

  • Visiting delegation from the French parliament, led by chairperson Amelia Lakrafi, meets counterparts from the Shoura Council in Riyadh
  • The Saudi vice minister of foreign affairs, Waleed El-Khuraiji, and the vice speaker of the Shoura Council, Mishaal Al-Sulami, also hold talks with the visitors

RIYADH: The Shoura Council’s Saudi-French Parliamentary Friendship Committee met a delegation led by Amelia Lakrafi, the chairperson of the counterpart committee in the French parliament, in Riyadh.

During the meeting, which was led by Ayman bin Saleh Fadhel, the chair of the Saudi committee, they discussed ways to enhance collaboration between the council and the parliament in various areas, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday

They emphasized the need to bolster cooperation and highlighted the importance of leveraging the work of the parliamentary friendship committees in both countries to help facilitate and reinforce joint projects. The participants also discussed other topics and issues of common interest, officials said.

Waleed El-Khuraiji, the vice minister of foreign affairs, also held talks with the French delegation, during which they similarly discussed cooperation and ongoing efforts to strengthen the close partnership between the countries.

In addition, Lakrafi met the vice speaker of the Shoura Council, Mishaal Al-Sulami, and they emphasized the significance of the relationship between Riyadh and Paris, particularly in the parliamentary sphere.

Lakrafi thanked the Kingdom for the welcome she has received during her visit. She also highlighted the robust and enduring ties between the two countries, along with the global influence and importance of the Kingdom, and its role in promoting the true essence of Islam worldwide.

Saudi Arabia, UK discuss boosting educational partnership

Updated 06 December 2023

Saudi Arabia, UK discuss boosting educational partnership

  • The Saudi education minister notes importance in strengthening ongoing strategic partnership between the two countries in the field of education

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education Yousef Al-Benyan has participated in roundtable meetings involving representatives from the Kingdom and British universities, the Saudi Press Agency said on Tuesday.

A meeting was held at the ministry’s headquarters in Riyadh in the presence of the British Prime Minister’s Special Representative to Saudi Arabia on Education Steve Smith, university leaders and representatives from the two countries.

The education minister spoke of the role of roundtable meetings in his opening speech, noting their importance in strengthening the ongoing strategic partnership between the two countries in the field of education, which began in 2018 when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a partnership.

Al-Benyan said: “Our strategic partnership focuses on six main areas, which include building a stronger and deeper partnership in the field of education; supporting the professional development of Saudi educators and enhancing their knowledge, skills and abilities; as well as enhancing cooperation and partnerships in the field of university education, including research cooperation, student scholarships, and transnational education.

“The educational partnership with the United Kingdom aims to increase the participation of the British private education sector in Saudi education, establish British schools and universities, address skills gaps, train healthcare professionals, and support the development of education, in line with the ambition of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”

Sharing policies relating to special educational needs and disabilities, and curriculum development would be part of the process, he added.

Al-Benyan stressed the importance of working within the partnership to open two British universities in the Kingdom by 2025, and to activate student exchange programs in Saudi universities to ensure that Saudi students had access to the latest knowledge and practical training to enhance opportunities for researchers from both countries while establishing joint research projects.

The work program of the roundtable meetings has focused on education within the UK’s framework for science and technology; investment in university education in the Kingdom; and the Saudi Innovative Educational City initiative.

In addition, bilateral cooperation in the field of research and innovation; a review of national research, development and innovation in the Kingdom and its strategic directions; as well as the role of the British Council in supporting university educational cooperation between the two countries by holding bilateral meetings between the Saudi universities and their British counterparts have also been looked at.

Meanwhile, the Leaders Development Institute has signed a declaration of intent with Loughborough University in England to strengthen ties between the two countries to contribute to the development of the sports sector and lead to equality and mutual respect.

The agreement will secure cooperation in various fields, including research and development, professional development programs for sports professions, and exchange of technical and administrative expertise.

LDI Director General Dr. Mezna Al-Marzooqi and Prof. Chris Linton, Loughborough University’s deputy vice chancellor, signed the agreement, while Badr Al-Kadi, the deputy sports minister, and British Ambassador to the Kingdom Neil Crompton attended the signing ceremony.

“Loughborough University is bound to improve the professional development programs of sports professions and occupations in the Kingdom, support the institute in the field of research and development, and strengthen the capabilities of training providers in the sector,” the SPA said.

King Abdulaziz University also held a scientific meeting with representatives of the British universities, which was organized by the university’s Department of International Cooperation Agreements, in coordination with the British Council.

The meeting discussed aspects of cooperation and partnerships in the educational and research fields.

President of Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University Dr. Ahmed bin Salem Al-Amri also received the British universities delegation on Monday.

The visiting delegation included representatives from 18 British universities, who discussed ways to enhance scientific visits, vocational training, and ways to exchange scientific and research experiences between the two countries through the use of research laboratories and dual certificates.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar ‘deepen and expand’ economic, security ties

Updated 06 December 2023

Saudi Arabia, Qatar ‘deepen and expand’ economic, security ties

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad hold talks in Doha
  • Focus also on boosting tourism, sports, culture, entertainment sectors

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Qatar are working to “deepen and expand” their economic, military, sports and cultural ties, according to a statement issued on Tuesday.

The statement comes in the wake of the Saudi-Qatari Coordination Council meeting attended by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, the emir of Qatar.

The crown prince and his delegation of senior officials arrived in Doha on Tuesday for the 44th GCC’s supreme council and the seventh Saudi-Qatari Coordination Council meetings, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The statement said the two leaders “considered this council to be one of the most important means of communication and coordination between the two countries that embodies these established relations, and that it is necessary to strive with all seriousness to deepen and expand the areas of bilateral cooperation in a way that achieves a future sustainable renaissance and growth for the two countries and their peoples.”

Sheikh Tamim congratulated Prince Mohammed on Saudi Arabia’s winning bid to host the World Expo 2030 in Riyadh, and nomination to hold the 2034 World Cup.

Prince Mohammed and Sheikh Tamim expressed their satisfaction with the agreements and memorandums of understanding signed during various subcommittee meetings of the Saudi-Qatari council.

On regional and global political issues, the two nations would continue to consolidate and enhance cooperation, the statement added.

There would also be heightened consultations on security and military matters, with a commitment to provide training and scholarships for the two nations’ personnel.

On the sports front, special mention was made of the cooperation between Riyadh and Doha in the hosting of the Qatar World Cup, which would continue as Saudi Arabia bids to host the sport’s premier event in 2034.

There would be cooperation in the culture, tourism and entertainment sectors, including improving access for international tourists.

In the economic, trade and investment fields, the two sides would continue working within the frameworks of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and Qatar’s National Vision 2030, the statement added.

Saudi crown prince thanks Qatari emir after visit to Doha

Updated 06 December 2023

Saudi crown prince thanks Qatari emir after visit to Doha

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday thanked Qatar’s Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad after concluding his visit to Doha, the state-run SPA news agency reported.

“As I leave your brotherly country, I wish to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation for the warm reception and generous hospitality accorded to me and the accompanying delegation,” the crown prince said in a cable.

“The visit and the discussions I held with you confirm the strength of the fraternal relations between our two countries, the common desire to deepen cooperation in all fields, and to continue coordination and consultations on issues of mutual interest, under the leadership of King Salman and yours, to achieve the interests of our countries and peoples,” the cable added.

The crown prince and his delegation of senior officials arrived in the Qatari capital earlier on Tuesday under the directives of King Salman and at the invitation of Sheikh Tamim, to head the Kingdom’s delegation to the 44th session of the Gulf Cooperation Council Supreme Council and the 7th Saudi-Qatari Coordination Council meeting.

“I wish to praise the results we reached during the meeting of the Saudi-Qatari Coordination Council, which aims to strengthen relations between our two brotherly countries,” Prince Mohammed said.

“I also praised the positive results achieved at the 44th session of the Gulf Cooperation Council Supreme Council, headed by you,” he said.

During the visit, Prince Mohammed also held talks with the Qatari leader to discuss issues of common interest and ways to enhance bilateral relations.

“I wish Your Highness good health and happiness, and the Qatari people further progress and prosperity,” he also said.