Even as there’s pressure on Saudi Arabia to curtail spending and prioritize projects, the technology sector has remained above such considerations and is driving the Kingdom’s diversification plans. In the run up to the Vision 2030, the Saudi government has its eyes set on building capacity of this sector to position the region as a global technology hub. And there are valid reasons for showing the increased confidence in the sector.
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While pursuing its diversification drive, Saudi Arabia has occupied a pioneering position in ushering in the AI-driven future. Be it telecommunications, healthcare, entertainment or government operations, AI wave is making a huge impact across all sectors in Saudi Arabia. In 2017, Saudi Arabia brought the world’s spotlight on the region with its path-breaking AI initiatives.
Saudi Arabia, the trendsetter
Saudi Arabia is making concerted efforts to utilize AI to give a big push to its economy. While Riyadh’s decision to grant AI-powered robot Sophia citizenship created ripples globally, its plan to develop a robot-run utopian megacity on the shores of the Red Sea has caught the world’s attention.
Touted as a $500-billion technological wonder, NEOM — meaning ‘new future’ — will be bigger than Dubai and have a liberal international trade centre, a business hub with advanced manufacturing, biotechnology and media industries. It will also present the finest example of machine learning, data mining and cognitive computing. NEOM will have no supermarkets: automation will seamlessly deliver things directly to people’s homes. Besides, a single platform will contain all information even photos, music and details of people’s cars and medical information.
Interestingly, NEOM envisions having more robots than humans. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says the city’s main robot will be named “Neom Robot Number One. Everything will have a link with artificial intelligence and IoTs.”
Saudi government’s initiatives have infused a new confidence in the corporate machinery in the region.
“Saudi Arabia is showcasing a strong commitment when it comes to digital transformation. Things are moving very fast there and nearly 50 percent of our Gulf business is concentrated in Saudi Arabia,” said Tarik Taman VP and General Manager of Infor IMEA. Infor is one of the pioneers in the world helping regional companies to digitally transform their operations.
Central to Vision 2030
Technology giant SAP has welcomed the Kingdom’s bold use of AI to help bring Saudi Vision 2030 national development goals to life.
“Artificial intelligence is central to Saudi Vision 2030. With careful foresight, it will significantly transform government services in smart cities. Neom is an excellent example of true innovation integrated into city infrastructure, enabling autonomous vehicles, smart buildings, and new mobile services that will improve the lives of Saudi citizens,” said SAP CEO Bill McDermott.
“Saudi Millennials are part of the best-connected generation in history. The workplace of the future will bring careers we can’t even imagine yet. SAP supports the digital ambitions of the Kingdom to equip today’s youth with the digital skills to unleash their potential and achieve their dreams,” added McDermott.
SAP has recently announced a four-year SAR285 million investment that includes plans for the SAP Cloud Hub, and an MoU with the National Digitization Unit. SAP co-innovates with innovators including Saudi Aramco and the Saudi Aramco Shell Refinery Company (SASREF) in oil and gas; the General Authority for Zakat and Income Tax; and the alfanar engineering and construction company
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UAE making rigorous efforts
Likewise, the UAE has the most ambitious plans to use AI tools and machine learning not only across all sectors but to develop new ones and create a new economy and a smart society. AI, deep learning, and cognitive computing are being excessively used in the fields of banking, customer service, defense, healthcare, and so forth.
In a first-of-its-kind experiment in the region, the UAE government’s Smart Dubai Office has deployed a 1.5-metre-tall robot receptionist, Farah, like any other human being to welcome guests, alert employees for meeting and help with security screenings and payments.
Recently Oracle has announced to open the region’s first AI lab by January-end in Dubai to complement the government’s focus on emerging technologies.
“The lab will show the power of the technology to customers and industry solutions relevant to the region. There’s a long way to go as we currently use less than 20 per cent of AI in the workspace. This (UAE) is a perfect country as we get all the support from the government,” says Arun Khehar, Senior Vice-President (Applications), Oracle Eastern Central Europe, Middle East and Africa.
In another initiative, Emirates airline has announced to develop a fleet of AI autonomous vehicles to assist in airside operations. Vehicles will be completely powered by solar or electrical energy and improve operational efficiency by 50 per cent. Besides, the airline is using AI to transform cabin crew and develop solutions to “integrate the needs” of Emirates passengers.