Artificial Intelligence – key strategy in Saudi Arabia. Source: www.thestartupscene.me

Under the 2030 Vision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the strategic framework developed in 2016, Artificial Intelligence (AI) became a key topic to be developed and integrated in the new mega-city Neom. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan is a package of economic and social policies designed to free the kingdom from dependence on oil exports.

Moreover, in October 2017, a humanoid named Sophia (produced by Hanson Robotics, spoke at the Future Investment Initiative, the 2017 annual investment forum) became the first robot to be granted citizenship in the world by the KSA.

For 2020, KSA planned on becoming the world leader for AI events with the organization of a global summit for AI, bringing together decision-makers, experts, and specialists from public and private sectors from Saudi Arabia and around the globe, including technology companies, investors, and businessmen.

As announced in September, the Global Artificial Intelligence (AI) Summit “AI for the Good of Humanity”, held between October 21-22, in Riyadh under the patronage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was organized by the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA). The summit was held virtually as part of the precautionary measures announced by the Saudi government, amid the pandemic.

Dr. Abdullah Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, SDAIA president, said: “We are ready to lead a knowledge-based economy. I hope that Riyadh will be a hub for AI”. He said the summit will be held annually and consolidate the Kingdom’s position as a global leader in AI.

The inaugural summit aimed to explore artificial intelligence’s role in the new global era and how its transformational potential can be deployed “to create a better future for all” and, thus, enabled the participation of 141 countries to exchange insights and plan a new way to use AI for the good of humanity. A total of 7,375 delegates registered to take part in the event.

The summit addressed several critical AI-related issues under four main themes: Shaping a New Normal, AI and Governments, AI Governance, and the Future of AI, with the topics being discussed through keynotes, panels, and interactive activities. It included 30 sessions, with nearly 60 speakers, including ministers, leaders of global entities, academics, investors, and entrepreneurs from 20 countries.

In addition, it hosted an advisory session in cooperation with the UN, to establish a body on global cooperation to address issues around integration, coordination, and building capabilities.

For Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, the situation across the globe, with major parts of the economy and society has slowed down over the past year due to the current pandemic and related safety measures that have been put in place, provides a key opportunity for the Kingdom and the globe to test the potential of AI, and to close the growing digital gap that exists between developed and developing nations, which has been made more prominent during this unprecedented period. This vision of the Crown Prince was part of a speech given on his behalf by the president of SADAI during the Global AI Summit.

In the speech, the Crown Prince explained that “2020, undoubtedly, has been an extraordinary year to test the potential of AI, as we witness the formation of a new global normal that is redefining our ways of life, working and learning […] This requires all of us to think and work hard to take advantage of artificial intelligence and unleash its full potential to advance our societies and economies.”

A national strategy for data and AI in Saudi Arabia, recently approved by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, in line with the Kingdom’s pursuit of an economy that is built on data and AI, was also launched at the event, as previously announced. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s national AI strategy aims to place the country at the forefront of AI research and development, a position where data and AI feature prominently in its future development. With regard to concrete objectives, Saudi Arabia is looking to become one of the top 15 nations by 2030 in artificial intelligence by establishing itself as a global hub for data and AI. It has specific aims to train 20,000 data and AI experts, set up more than 300 active AI startups, and bring in $20 billion of foreign investments by 2030.

“The strategy aims to make Saudi Arabia the place where the best of data and AI is made a reality,” Alghamdi said, adding that it sets the foundation and direction upon which Saudi Arabia will unlock the potential of data and AI to fulfill the national transformation priorities and establish the kingdom as a global hub for data and AI. “One thing we all agree upon is that technology in general, and certainly AI, has been at the center of this new normal. AI today is making our healthcare more intelligent, our cities smart and our road safe,” he noted.

“Saudi Arabia wants to set the best example globally in using AI for the development of a nation,” Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi told the Global AI Summit audience in Riyadh. “AI’s potential has led to fierce competition between nations to claim global leadership … there has been an overly negative debate on the risks and dangers,” he said.

Among the aims is accelerating AI for sustainable development in less wealthy countries, Al-Ghamdi said, so that “no one is left behind”. Saudi Arabia and the World Bank have launched an initiative to enhance the digital economy in developing countries and empower them to expedite AI technology. Esam Al-Wagait, director of Saudi Arabia’s National Information Center, said the agreement would forge partnerships to speed up AI development in less fortunate African countries. Makhtar Diop, vice president for infrastructure at the World Bank, said the partnerships would help the governments of those countries build AI capabilities and set relevant development policies. He said there was a focus on the African continent based on the common intentions of the strategic partnership. This also aims to aid developing countries and help them create innovative solutions to their economic and social challenges and contribute to enhancing the efficiency of all vital sectors in these countries through AI.

Saudi Arabia’s National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence is focused on six dimensions which include:

  • Ambition – Turn the country into a global leader in data and AI, including the development and adoption of data and AI technologies, and as a leader of global dialogue and strategy and policy development. Saudi Arabia aims to rank among the top 15 countries in AI by 2030;
  • Skills – Transform the current and future Saudi workforce, through education, and up-skilling and re-skilling to enable Saudis to utilize the power of data and AI, in public and private sectors. Programmes are already underway with education establishments to attract, develop and retain AI talent in the Kingdom, with a target of creating 20,000 AI and data specialists and experts by 2030;
  • Policy and regulations – Create a world-class regulatory framework that will encourage and foster data-driven businesses, collection, and sharing of data between government entities for the benefit of citizens, and open data;
  • Investment – Aim to attract and incentivize local and foreign investors and companies to encourage investment in qualified opportunities within Saudi Arabia. The strategy aims to attract a total of $20bn (SAR 75bn) in FDI and local investments by 2030;
  • Research and innovation – Build and enable core research and innovation institutions in data and AI, to enable the kingdom to lead in the development and commercialization of new technologies. The nation aims to rank among the top 20 countries in the world for peer-reviewed data and AI publications;
  • Ecosystem – Stimulate data and AI adoption through the creation of a collaborative and forward-thinking ecosystem, that will drive the commercialization and industry application of data and AI, for the benefit of public and private sectors. The strategy aims to create the environment for at least 300 AI and data startups to thrive by 2030.

During the summit, global AI agreements, and partnerships were announced, as well as the winners of the AI Artathon competition and NEOM Challenge.

In addition, it hosted an advisory session in cooperation with the UN, to establish a body on global cooperation to address issues around integration, coordination, and building capabilities.

Chinese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chen Weiqing, told Xinhua that the summit showed that the world attaches great importance to the field of AI, and he believed there are a lot of opportunities and potential ahead for China-Saudi cooperation in this field. “Many Chinese companies and research institutes were invited to participate, which reflects the international community’s recognition of and attention to China’s progress and achievements in AI and big data in recent years,” Chen said.

Following the summit, on October 26th, the National Center for Artificial Intelligence (NCAI) of Saudi Arabia announced a strategic partnership with Huawei on the national AI capability development. NCAI is a branch of the SDAIA, responsible for promoting the implementation of the national AI strategy, AI innovation, and capacity building. According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Huawei will support NCAI to train Saudi AI engineers and students, explore the creation of an AI capability platform to localize technical solutions, in addition, to develop a comprehensive strategy to develop AI skills and capabilities in line with the country’s 2030 vision. Through the same MoU, a recognition of Arabic language and character using AI technology and with the help of researchers from the kingdom and Huawei is meant to be implemented, according to SDAIA’s Twitter account.

Dr. Majid Altuwaijri, CEO of NCAI, said: “We welcome this partnership with Huawei which seeks to transform the Saudi workforce so that it can utilize the power of data and AI. This will be done through education, upskilling, and reskilling of Saudis to create a steady supply of data and AI-empowered talent for the country’s workforce.”

Charles Yang, president of Huawei Middle East, commented: “Huawei has adopted an ambitious long-term research and development strategy regarding AI, creating unprecedented opportunities through the synergy of AI with 5G connectivity, cloud, computing, and industrial applications. In cooperation with SDAIA, we look forward to creating new value across these tech domains, collaborating with local AI developers and industry partners to transform the Kingdom into a leading data-driven economy.

In the same context, other MoUs were signed with IBM and Alibaba, according to the state news agency SPA. SDAIA and Alibaba Cloud would partner in supporting Saudi Arabia’s path to developing smart cities through AI, SPA said. “Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has clear goals to transform KSA cities into smart ones by unlocking the value of city data as a national asset to realize Vision 2030 aspirations,” said the president of SDAIA. “This initiative will play an important role in supporting the Kingdom in achieving its 2030 vision goals, of which around 70% are directly impacted by the data and AI agenda; and in supporting the national ambition to make Saudi Arabia a world leader in the field of AI.”

In addition, SDAIA is seeking IBM’s help in developing “real use cases” of AI in areas of health, energy, and other sectors, as well as training through a strategic relationship, it said.

Moreover, the SDAIA and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations, signed an MoU to collaborate on initiatives aimed at supporting and strengthening efforts to optimize the benefits of AI technologies and applications for sustainable development. Under the agreement, Saudi Arabia will support ITU in developing projects, activities, and initiatives that will, among other things, aim to facilitate greater multi-stakeholder participation, international cooperation, and knowledge sharing to accelerate progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This could potentially include developing initiatives such as an “AI Readiness Landscape Framework” that would explore and highlight country responses, progress, and best practices related to AI policy frameworks.

This article was edited using data from the following websites: www.english.aawsat.com, www.healthcareitnews.com, www.meed.com, www.abouther.com, www.xinhuanet.com, www.reuters.com, www.arabnews.com, and www.syncedreview.com.

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