MiSK, Google form joint initiative on children’s Internet safety

“Do you like to share stuff on the internet?” at the interactive morning session of the Kulluna Online launch at Riyadh Schools on Tuesday. (AN photo by Lulwa Shalhoub)
Updated 15 February 2017

MiSK, Google form joint initiative on children’s Internet safety

RIYADH: Using the Internet smartly and safely is the aim of the digital literacy initiative “Kulluna Online” (We’re All Online) launched by the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Foundation (MiSK) and Google on Tuesday.
Starting this semester, around 10,000 boys and girls at 50 schools in Riyadh will attend interactive workshops by Google-trained facilitators, as part of the multiyear program that will later expand to include other parts of Saudi Arabia. 
“Given the notable growth of usage of the digital world, whether through regular browsing or instant messaging applications, it was necessary that we find a creative initiative to spread awareness on digital safety,” said Badr Al-Asaker, MiSk secretary-general.
“Kulluna Online was the product of MiSK’s belief that the Internet has become one of the most important languages of our time and a necessary tool for development. The program aims to spread digital awareness and to keep up with the latest global practices, which ensures safe Internet browsing.”
The day started at Riyadh schools with an interactive, chatty session between young onstage presenters and the audience, mainly students from elementary and intermediate grades.
Saudi Arabia has 21 million Internet users out of a population of some 32 million, Education Minister Ahmed Al-Issa said in his keynote speech. 
Speaking at a press conference, Mohamed Al-Harthi, deputy minister of education for curricula and educational programs, said: “Executing this program comes in terms of activating Saudi Vision 2030 and enhancing the partnership between the public and non-profit sectors.”
The idea of the program started by gathering feedback from school students, their parents and teachers via focus groups delivered by MiSK, and listening to their concerns over their children’s digital usage and presence.
The workshops will teach students to think carefully before posting something online, and how to protect their privacy by not sharing passwords or oversharing personal photos.
It will also teach them how to avoid being victims of phishing, spam and identity theft, as well as how to have a positive attitude online.
Sam Blatteis, Google head of government relations and public policy for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), believes education lies at the heart of realizing Google’s mission: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
“What this project is doing is helping in one way to contribute to the foundation, setting the stage for developing a longer-term confidence and interest in the Internet economy,” he told Arab News.
“Parents have done a great job teaching children how to protect themselves offline by telling them not to talk to strangers or not to take candy from them. But there’s a growing need now for youth to have the same skills online. Think before you post. You are what you share.”
Delivering the program will adopt a gamification technique to transform online safety education into memorable and fun content that children can embrace.
Google will gather post-mortem feedback in the form of qualitative and quantitative data from students, teachers and trainers to get an idea of the change in perceptions before and after the program.
“There are a lot of programs on online safety in terms of dos and don’ts, and they were often referred to in the context of cybersecurity,” Blatteis said.
“We thought there’s an untapped potential to popularize it and socialize this program through calling it ‘digital literacy,’ to bring to life how this (program) is something that can be uplifting and give kids confidence when they surf online.
“That was a finding that we at Google found through our studies over the past couple of years in the GCC.”
When asked about the possibility of hosting students to do internships at Google, he said: “We want to focus on delivering this program. I think there are inspiring kids here, and we’re making efforts in localizing the content.
“We tried to make it ‘Googley’ and give it a glimpse of some of Google’s culture, but long-term an aspiration I have is to help develop youth to… one day apply for internships at places like Google.”
Google has structured similar programs that were applied at schools in the US and UK.

Majority of Saudi companies gearing up for future with AI technology: Business report

Updated 10 min 17 sec ago

Majority of Saudi companies gearing up for future with AI technology: Business report

  • 89 percent of Saudi businesses indicated AI to be an important consideration of executive management — study
  • Kingdom well-positioned to “leapfrog” other countries in the race toward digital transformation

RIYADH: Companies in Saudi Arabia are gearing up to take advantage of the latest advances in artificial intelligence (AI), according to an in-depth regional business report.

Although firms in the Kingdom remain wary of committing major investment to the emerging technology, many are already implementing data improvement initiatives to prepare for an AI-enabled future.

New research revealed on Tuesday that 89 percent of Saudi businesses indicated AI to be an important consideration of executive management, with predictive technology seen as the most relevant application by 79 percent of companies who took part in the survey.

And experts believe the Kingdom is well-positioned to “leapfrog” other countries in the race toward achieving the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.

According to the AI maturity report covering the Middle East and Africa, commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Ernst & Young (EY), the Saudi business community is keeping up to speed on developments.

Releasing the report to the media, Thamer Al-Harbi, president of Microsoft Arabia, said: “Saudi Arabian businesses are taking a keen interest in AI from a strategic viewpoint. This bodes well for the future of the technology within the Kingdom as AI maturity begins with executives identifying business problems that need to be solved.

“Saudi companies are gearing up to take their AI agenda to the next level and moving forward by leveraging AI technology in alignment with the National Transformation Program 2020 toward achieving Vision 2030.

“Although they are still near the beginning of the maturity curve, they are well-positioned to leverage global experience in AI, which could ultimately enable them to leapfrog other countries in the next few years,” added Al-Harbi.

Despite AI activity having been relatively quiet in Saudi Arabia over the past 10 years, with a total investment of around $585 million, the Kingdom emerged strongly again in 2018, said the report.

Across industries, there was a significant buzz around the topic of AI, with 42 percent of companies reporting that conversations on the subject were already taking place at non-managerial levels, the highest percentage recorded by any country in the Middle East and Africa, Al-Harbi said.

AI development, though in its earliest stages, is underway. At least 26 percent of businesses reported that they were planning AI activity, while at the same time actively investing in relevant skills.

Pockets of excellence were also shown to be emerging, with 16 percent of companies saying AI was already contributing significantly to their business processes.

While Saudi executives intuitively sense the value of AI, they are conscious that getting too caught up in the hype might blind them to the dangers of investing in technology that is only just starting to demonstrate its commercial value.

As it stands, the main concern for businesses in implementing AI is the diffusion of their resources.

The report found that at least 32 percent of firms in the Kingdom were cautious of spreading their budgetary and human resources too thin, and that the primary focus for most was digitization. Although 37 percent of respondents viewed AI as an important priority, it was not at the top of their list.

Instead, they were actively building the infrastructure needed for digital transformation, starting with good-quality data.

Steve Plimsoll, MENA data and intelligence advisory leader for EY, said: “The biggest problem to date with AI is that it is not always right. AI has given us the ability to make data-driven predictions, decisions and actions faster than ever before, but it is only as effective as the data and algorithms it relies on.

“So, while it’s great to see local companies investing in adoption of AI, the focus must be on building trust that the underlying data and algorithms are reliable, the models ethical and the predictions are measurable and as accurate as they can be. Without trust, AI will never fully move from fiction into reality.”

The report also revealed that in general, Saudi businesses were upbeat about the future impact of AI on their businesses and 37 percent expected it to impact their core business to a very high degree.

Those quizzed were particularly positive about the potential of AI to assist employees in executing their daily functions more effectively.

Currently, prediction was seen as the most relevant application of AI for 79 percent of Saudi companies, with organizations using AI to predict risk and fraud or combining it with intelligent automation to assign workloads to individuals, ultimately optimizing business processes, the report said.

The study added that 68 percent of respondents indicated that automation was one of the most relevant applications of AI in their pursuit of operational efficiency.