Saudi woman the first in the Middle East with a PhD in AI

Dr. Fatmah Baothman is the first woman in the Middle East with a PhD in Modern Artificial Intelligence. (Photo supplied)
Updated 07 March 2019

Saudi woman the first in the Middle East with a PhD in AI

  • AI “It’s a never-ending science,” says Dr. Fatmah Baothman
  • The Saudi worked tirelessly to contribute to the AI community

DUBAI: Dr. Fatmah Baothman is no ordinary Saudi woman. She embodies women’s empowerment in the Kingdom, as the first woman in the Middle East with a PhD in Modern Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Her AI journey started when she was a student at the University of Arizona studying the English language. She was introduced to computer systems that help and assist non-native English speakers. 

“I was fascinated by the level of machine communication and interaction,” Dr Baothman explained. “Once I started studying programing and understanding more about the Turing Test, which is a test that’s been designed to test the intelligence of machines, I became fascinated.” 

In 2003, she graduated from the School of Computing and Engineering at the University of Huddesfield in the UK, where she earned a PhD in “Phonology-Based Automatic Speech Recognition for Arabic.” Her work was primarily focused on AI and she was exposed to forecasting, pattern recognition, phonology and phonetics, acoustics, machine learning and mathematics.

Such work can be used to connect humans to machines in speech, as well as machines to machines, and raising intelligence in robotics. “We worked with a robot and we were able to increase its intelligence from four to seven years,” she noted. “Speech is a very important tool in different applications that could be used in smart cities, smart cars and smartphones — it’s about connecting machines and people, and machines to machines, even if they don’t speak our language, they find a way of communicating in which they can interact with each other.”

Dr Baothman spoke of her fascination with machine communication. “I spent hours trying to figure out how it worked,” she said. “Once I started studying it, I started realizing and building an emotional interest towards the topic. I always had a wish to be a part of the AI community and contribute to such an important discipline.”

She became “emotionally attached” to AI, yearning to learn more. “It’s a never-ending science,” she added. “AI, generally speaking, is a growing science, and it could bring the best benefits to humanity by solving their complex problems, so it’s of interest to me.” 

Her hope is to eventually tackle different fields with AI, such as the economy, by bringing new solutions that would help solve fluctuation issues, like crises and poverty. “I believe that, very soon, AI will play an important role in that,” she noted. “I’m interested in it and I’ve already started forming a group to work on it.”

She mentioned the financial sector in Saudi Arabia, which is slowly moving towards implementing AI at different levels. “It’s very important,” she said. “I hope to see a unified strategy for AI and I also hope to contribute to it.”

Her determination is what made her reach her goals. “I was working day and night, hours on end,” she said. “My thinking was how can I contribute and add to the community in AI, how can I transfer this technology and make use of it in my country and how can I assist the new graduates, make their path easier and their learning experience better and much more improved than what I had to go through.”

The Jeddah-born woman started working as an advisor with MMG (MedLab Media Group), a Spanish technology start-up focused on improving daily clinical practice and decision-making, which signed an agreement a couple of weeks ago with Advanced AI LLC, a Saudi company specialized in AI technology and products. 

“It makes me feel very excited to be the first woman with a PhD in Modern AI,” she explained. “(We) are planning to establish an AI lab in Jeddah very soon to work in blockchain technology, AI projects and other areas, directed towards healthcare.” 

She has also been working at the King Abdulaziz University for more than 25 years as an assistant professor in computing and information technology. Although she started off her career at a managerial level, she eventually played a vital role in establishing the university’s computer science department for women and became the first appointed teaching assistant in the department. 

“It was very difficult at first and communication between men and women was hard,” Dr. Baothman said. “The internet wasn’t as it is now, and acquiring knowledge at that time was based on books only.”


Russia’s Putin lauds good relations with Saudi Arabia, condemns Aramco attacks

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

Russia’s Putin lauds good relations with Saudi Arabia, condemns Aramco attacks

  • Moscow could play a key role in easing regional tensions given its good ties with Gulf states and Iran
  • The Russian president made his only trip to Riyadh way back in 2007

RIYADH: Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia and condemned the recent attacks on state-owned Aramco oil facilities.
Putin said such attacks only strengthened cooperation between oil producers inside and outside OPEC, an alliance known as OPEC+, and that Russia would work with its partners to reduce attempts to destabilize markets.
As President Donald Trump reinstated US sanctions, increasing pressure on Iran’s economy, there have been a series of attacks in Saudi Arabia and in Gulf waters that Washington and close allies have blamed on Iran, which denies responsibility.
Putin told Arab broadcasters in an interview aired on Sunday ahead of his visit to the Kingdom in more than a decade, that he has “very good relations” with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Russian president is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Monday and then heads to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
Putin said that there has been a 38 percent growth in economic cooperation between the Kingdom and Russia.
Russia’s Direct Investment Fund and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund have created a base of $10 billion, with $2 billion in investments, he added.
Russian petrochemicals company Sibur Holding is looking to build a petrochemical complex worth more than $1 billion in investments, Putin also said.
Syrian Conflict
On Syria, where Russia and Iran have been key allies of President Bashar Assad in an 8-1/2-year civil war, the Russian president said they would not have been able to reach a positive outcome without Saudi cooperation.
“I would like to emphasize the positive role Saudi Arabia has played in resolving the Syrian crisis … without Saudi Arabia’s contribution toward a Syrian settlement, it would have been impossible to achieve a positive trend,” he said, thanking King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman for their “constructive approach.”
He said Moscow supports the Assad regime in Syria, not because they have no blame in the situation but to prevent terrorist organizations from infiltrating the war-torn country.
“We are working with Turkey and Iran to resolve the Syrian conflict, but without Saudi it would not be possible to come to a good solution,” he said.
A congress convened by Russia last year tasked the United Nations envoy for Syria with forming a committee to draft a new constitution, after many rounds of talks to end the war failed.
UN officials say forming a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end a war which has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced about half of the pre-war 22 million population.
Turkey launched an assault last week against Kurdish forces in border areas of northern Syria, saying it seeks to set up a “safe zone” to resettle Syrian refugees but raising international alarm over the possibility of Daesh militants escaping from prisons.
Iran Deal
Asked if Moscow supported new a return to negotiations with Iran to limit its missile program as Trump has called for enforcing the nuclear deal first, Putin said the two issues should be dealt with separately.
“Most likely it (the missiles) can and should be discussed ... The missile program is one thing and the nuclear program is another thing,” he said. “Of course, this is necessary, but there is no need to merge one with the other...”
OPEC+
The Russian president said OPEC+ was an initiative introduced by the crown prince to increase their cooperation in oil sector, and that he was the one who suggested to expand military collaboration between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia was not just a regional energy player but also a global one, and “we care about our cooperation,” Putin said.
The Russian leader added that anything that threatens energy trade stability must be stopped, and “we should work together” to stop it.
Aramco Attacks
Putin also condemned the Sept. 14 attacks on Aramco facilities, noting “such actions do not bring any positive results to anybody, including perpetrators,” as they do not have a strong effect on the market.
“We condemn any such actions, end of story. This is the official position … regardless of who stood behind the incident,” said Putin.
He insisted Russia’s intelligence community does not know who perpetrated the Aramco attacks, but he also said that his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, has denied Tehran’s complicity in the attacks. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Riyadh and Washington blamed Tehran.
However, Putin said: “It is wrong to determine who is guilty before it is known reliably and clearly who is behind this act,” Putin said, adding that he had agreed to help investigate the attack.
“If someone may have wanted to deal a blow to the oil market, they failed. There were indeed some fluctuations in prices, but I do not think it was anything too serious, even though the initial response was quite strong.
“We need to respond to any attempt to destabilize the market. Russia will certainly continue working with Saudi Arabia and other partners and friends in the Arab world to counter any attempts to wreak havoc in the market,” he said in an interview with Al Arabiya.
Putin believes Russia can play a positive role in resolving regional disagreements, because of Moscow’s positive relations with the Arab world, Iranians, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.