The Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming to the Middle East

While the Third Industrial Revolution used technology to automate production, the Fourth one will overhaul the national economy and create alternative sources of revenue. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 10 February 2020

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is coming to the Middle East

  • Riyadh to host a Middle East-focused special meeting of the World Economic Forum in April
  • A Saudi center of the WEF's C4IR network will help shape the development of advanced technologies

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia will soon be the host of one of the most prestigious institutions at the heart of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) effort to shape the development and application of emerging technologies for the benefit of humanity. 

The Saudi branch of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) — a network of technology-governance hubs and affiliate centers — will be the outcome of an agreement reached late last year between the Kingdom and the Swiss-based non-profit organization. 

The agreement heralds a new era of cooperation between the WEF and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), supported by the Saudi Center for International Strategic Partnerships (SCISP). 

At the 50th annual WEF meeting in Davos, it was also announced that a conference on “the Middle East in the Fourth Industrial Revolution” would be convened in Riyadh on April 5-6.

The WEF’s website says: “Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency in 2020, the first time an Arab and Middle East country has such a mandate, presents a unique opportunity for the entire region to take a global view of its future.”


  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.
  • Autonomous and Urban Mobility.
  • Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology. Data Policy.and digital trade, plus drones and Tomorrow’s Airspace.
  • Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth.
  • Internet of Things, Robotics and Smart Cities; and precision medicine.

The April meeting is billed as “a crucial opportunity to rise above the fog of geopolitical uncertainty and the gravitational forces of legacy conflicts and scale up the efforts of the region’s outstanding thinkers and practitioners who are committed to a can-do, positive agenda for the region and its people.”

In a 2015 essay in the magazine Foreign Affairs the founder and executive chairman of the WEF, Klaus Schwab, had defined the 4IR thus: “The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. 

“Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third … It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” 

Muhammad Khurram Khan, CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington, said the decision to establish a 4IR center in Saudi Arabia demonstrated the leadership’s commitment, in line with its National Transformation Plan (NTP) and Saudi Vision 2030, to “developing effective solutions to the challenges faced by organizations, while creating capacity and capability in the Kingdom.” 

Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah greets WEF founder Klaus Schwab in Riyadh on Wednesday. (SPA)

According to Khan: “Governments around the world are investing heavily in cutting-edge and emerging technologies to boost gross domestic product and diversify their economy. 

“The 4IR could help governments and organizations to drive economic development, competitiveness and social progress.” 

“This will help overhaul the national economy by investing in modern technologies to create alternative sources of revenue, as well as new jobs and opportunities.” 

The Saudi government has said KACST will manage the affiliate center in cooperation with the WEF, providing space for the development of 4IR mechanisms, plans and applications in the Kingdom. 

It is also expected to “contribute to the adoption of technology and best practices in the region and the world, reinforcing the directives of the leadership and harnessing the tools provided by the 4IR to serve the Kingdom.” 

The C4IR network, which is headquartered in San Francisco, currently has hubs in India, China and Japan,  in addition to the affiliate centers. 

The network “brings together governments, business organizations, dynamic startups, civil society, academia and international organizations from around the world to work together across nine emerging technology areas,” including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, autonomous mobility, data policy, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT) robotics, and smart cities. 

Furthermore, C4IR partners can send fellows to any of the four main hubs or affiliate centers, thus enabling a continuous exchange of insights and knowledge sharing. 

“Having such a center is very important to Saudi Arabia, given the heightened levels of tensions as well as recent attacks on the Aramco pipeline,” said Matthew Cochran, CEO and co-founder of URS Laboratories in the UAE. 

By virtue of its location, the center will facilitate customized solutions based on real-world requirements that are different for Saudi Arabia to other places in the world, he said. 

Citing the September 2019 drone strikes on Saudi Aramco’s oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, and the many cyber-attacks on the Kingdom in the past, Cochran said: “The 4IR and the ability for countries and governments to react quickly is a challenge globally. 

“Saudi Arabia has shown, especially in the past 12 months, that they are willing to change and adapt their responses to threat levels with new ways of protecting their assets. 

“It must be a coordinated approach across all government agencies and, just as in the US, we have an increasing landscape of commercial security working with government security to protect vital assets.” 

That being said, Cochran expects the C4IR’s Saudi center to face challenges similar to what many other technology-governance institutions are grappling with. 

“As AI and machine learning become faster and better, we will have machines talking to robots and robots speaking to unmanned vehicles, in the air, on sea and land,” he said. 

“The potential challenges will be, in some ways, simply setting up the ability for those machines, robots and vehicles to deliver their requirement safely, with humans either in the middle or as the end-user.” 

As a host government, Saudi Arabia will be expected to commit to supporting and advancing the development and deployment of pilot frameworks on topics aligned with projects launched by the C4IR network, according to the WEF’s website. 

“The Kingdom’s participation in this global initiative of the WEF is a golden opportunity for extending economic relations, exploring investment prospects and learning from — and sharing experiences with — industrially developed countries,” Khan said. 

“The local center can cooperate with various public and private-sector organizations, international institutions, civil society, and think-tanks to develop innovative approaches and shape policies for the governance and utilization of 4IR technologies.

 “The objective would be to maximize benefits and minimize risks for the benefit of local as well as global actors.” 

Khan said the main challenge for the Saudi C4IR center would be the shortage of high-tech skills and talent needed to develop, implement and scale up what the WEF calls “agile and human-centered pilot projects that can be adopted by policy-makers, legislators and regulators worldwide.” 

“The public and private sectors in the Kingdom need to come forward, establish training, education, research and innovation programs and invest in human capital to meet the demands of this revolution,” he said. 

“The challenges and opportunities of the 4IR are global in scope, have cross-industry impact and require multi-actor cooperation.”

Guinness World Records has great expectations for Saudi titles milestone

Updated 25 September 2020

Guinness World Records has great expectations for Saudi titles milestone

  • In MENA region, KSA is second behind UAE for its record-breaking prowess, with 93 GWR titles

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s penchant for breaking world records looks set to see the Kingdom smash through the 100 titles mark in the not-too-distant future, officials have predicted.
Guinness World Records (GWR), which lists incredible human achievements and extremes of nature, has great expectations for the country over the coming months.
The Kingdom has been placed second behind the UAE in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for its record-breaking prowess, with 93 GWR titles under its belt.
GWR’s senior marketing manager in the MENA region, Shaddy Gaad, told Arab News: “We’re very impressed with Saudi record-breaking and we’re really excited — a lot of record-breaking happens on the National Day.
“Over the last few years and with the Saudi Seasons (activity festivals) we’ve seen a big rise in record-breaking in Saudi Arabia and we’re looking forward to seeing this continue.
“Saudi Arabia is on the up and it’s rising very quickly. There were a lot of records broken near the end of last year. We had Riyadh Season and we had AlUla. I think that number’s going to rise up very quickly,” he said.

Largest hot air balloon glow show: The largest hot air balloon glow show consisted of 100 hot air balloons and was achieved by the Royal Commission for AlUla on Jan. 6, 2019.

Gaad added that so far this year there had been a 15 percent increase in the number of new records set by MENA nations.
“This year we received 750 applications from the MENA region, compared to 649 in the first eight months of 2019. From Saudi Arabia, we received 79 applications and we expect it to go up to 100 by the end of the year,” he said.
One of the most notable titles achieved by Saudi Arabia was for the largest mirror building, the Maraya Concert Hall in AlUla. “If you see that building itself, it’s absolutely beautiful. It looks like something out of a movie,” added Gaad.
Jeddah can boast the world’s largest burger restaurant, with I’m Hungry covering 2,860 square meters, the equivalent of 11 tennis courts according to its marketing team.
The Red Sea port city also has the world’s tallest unsupported flagpole, while AlUla plays host to the largest hot air balloon glow show, and Saudi influencer Hussain Sallam (known as S7S) holds the record for the largest serving of sayadieh (1,334 kilograms of the seasoned fish and rice dish).

Largest human awareness ribbon: The largest human awareness ribbon consisted of 8,264 participants and was achieved by Saudi women at an event organized by 10KSA in Riyadh on Dec. 12, 2015.

Stunt driver Terry Grant completed the largest loop-the-loop in a car during Riyadh Season on Nov. 25, and the MDL Beast Festival in the Saudi capital on Dec. 21 won the tallest stage title.
However, similar to most organizations, WGR has had to adapt to working around safety restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“We moved a lot of things online. To view the growth in the number of applications, we launched this online record-breaking; what happened is it’s a dedicated brand and content division, focused on helping brands and businesses break records as part of their marketing campaign, and all of it is done over the internet.
“It wasn’t difficult; record-breaking and evidence provision is generally done online. It wasn’t difficult for us; the only thing was that people just had to get used to it, but it was a seamless process,” said Gaad.

Largest burger restaurant: The largest burger restaurant covers an area of 2,860 square meters and the title was achieved by I’m Hungry in Jeddah on Dec. 12, 2019.

The new division runs over content such as live-streaming, online pledges, online albums, video relays, and video chains.
One of them happened in Saudi Arabia, with the most viewers for an Iftar YouTube live stream, when 183,544 people tuned in to enjoy popular YouTubers such as “The Saudi Reporters” and comedian Omar Hussein.
“These influencers got together on YouTube, live, and for an hour they were sharing their stories about Ramadan traditions and Saudi traditions. They broke their fast and shared this moment with their fans. That video ended up trending as No. 1 in Saudi and the region.
“If anything, this pandemic has taught us to adapt to situations. I think people are now more flexible with the idea of doing online records as much as they’re doing offline records,” Gaad added.
He pointed out that the online application process for the GWR was simple and that titles were granted based on whether the record was measurable (longest, largest, heaviest, etc.), breakable, standardizable, or verifiable, and if it was made up of one variable.


• Tallest flagpole: The tallest unsupported flagpole measures 171 meters (561 feet) and was erected by Jeddah Municipality and Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI) in Jeddah on Sept. 23, 2014.

• Largest drinking water storage facility: The largest drinking water storage facility is the Briman Strategic Water Reservoir, in Jeddah, with a total capacity of 2,062,500 cubic meters, verified on Nov. 17, 2014. Fun fact: The volume of this facility could fill up six skyscrapers the size of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

• Largest burger restaurant: The largest burger restaurant covers an area of 2,860 square meters and the title was achieved by I’m Hungry in Jeddah on Dec. 12, 2019.

• Largest hot air balloon glow show: The largest hot air balloon glow show consisted of 100 hot air balloons and was achieved by the Royal Commission for AlUla on Jan. 6, 2019.

• The Largest Serving of sayadieh: The largest serving of sayadieh was 1,334 kg achieved by Hussain Sallam in Jeddah on Sept. 14, 2019.

• Darkest man-made substance: The darkest man-made substance is a black material made of gold nanoparticles and called dark chameleon dimers, which absorbs more than 99 percent of visible light over the whole visible range. The material was made by scientists from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in a joint collaboration between Prof. Yu Han and Prof. Andrea Fratalocchi.

• Largest water desalination company: The largest water desalination company is Saline Water Conversion Corp. (Saudi Arabia) which produces 4,600,000 cubic meters a day as verified on June 4, 2016. •Largest Tele-ICU command center: The largest Tele-ICU command center consisted of 796 beds and was achieved by Dr. Sulaiman Al-Habib Medical Group in Riyadh and verified on July 31, 2019.

• Tallest stage (temporary): The tallest stage (temporary) measured 38 meters in height and was achieved by MDL Beast Fest in Riyadh on Dec. 21, 2019.

• Most consecutive wins in AFC champions league: The most consecutive wins of the AFC champions league are two achieved by Al Ittihad FC (Saudi Arabia) in 2004-2005.

• Largest human awareness ribbon: The largest human awareness ribbon consisted of 8,264 participants and was achieved by Saudi women at an event organized by 10KSA in Riyadh on Dec. 12, 2015.