Tech experts share insights at Middle East forum on the digital future

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Taavi Kotka, first chief information officer of Proud Engineers, (right) and Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition. (Supplied)
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Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition. (Supplied)
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Experts say the advancement of artificial intelligence will nudge societies further into the digital realm. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 12 February 2020

Tech experts share insights at Middle East forum on the digital future

  • Saudi Arabia shifting gears as part of plan to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Milken MEA Summit told
  • Advancement of AI and other 4IR elements will give rise to digital citizens and domains, expert says

ABU DHABI: All sectors of society will have to change their purpose and functions if they intend to maximize the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution, participants in a Milken Institute panel discussion in Abu Dhabi said on Tuesday.
The session, with the theme “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Transformation of Society,” addressed the various elements of a phenomenon now commonly referred to as 4IR.
Participants said the advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, genome editing, augmented reality and other 4IR elements will nudge societies into the digital realm, promoting digital citizens and domains.
Among the countries shifting gears in an attempt to embrace the 4IR transformation in every sector is Saudi Arabia.
“It’s a brave new world,” said Ibrahim Saad Almojel, director general of the Saudi Arabia Industrial Development Fund (SIDF).
“The most ambitious goal of Vision 2030 is transforming the Kingdom into an economic and industrial powerhouse and a logistical hub.”
Almojel acknowledged that such changes are difficult due to their complexity and rapid pace alongside the struggle of keep tracking of them. The time allocated to understand the changes is also becoming shorter.
“The classical systems that exist are not sufficient anymore,” he said. “Customization and automation in manufacturing enable us to have an opportunity to leapfrog and set up a hub for advanced manufacturing and leverage our access to the market.”
Explaining the SIDF story, Almojel said it was set up 45 years ago as a “courageous player,” which evolved and expanded its sectors to include mining and logistics.
The fund then expanded its project offerings from financing mostly small and medium-sized enterprises and changed the way in which it conducted business, going from being passive to proactive.
The SIDF launched the Tanafusiya program, which enables industrial manufacturers to increase their energy efficiency and reduce their energy cost, while supporting operational improvements in manufacturing processes through technological upgrades and digitalization.
It also provided $800 million for the transformation of companies active in such fields as manufacturing, logistics, mining and energy.
“We believe that the private sector should lead, but we should make it easier for them,” Almojel said. Oil and gas is another area that will undergo massive changes with the 4IR revolution, he said.


4IR includes mobile supercomputing, intelligent robots, self-driving cars, neuro-technological brain enhancements, genetic editing.

Amir Husain, founder and CEO of SparkCognition, which specializes in autonomy technology, said AI will be able to detect production-impacting events on oil rigs. Predictions can be transformed into scheduled maintenance, saving millions of dollars.
He said there is a basic chain of autonomy components: Perception, decision and action.
“AI applications can be enabled with one, two or all three components,” Husain said.
“In the particular case of oil and gas, you can do very well just by perceiving better than a human analyst looking at a set of gauges.”
Husain noted that AI is perceived as having power that is orders of magnitude “beyond our own power of perception.
“In that sense, it can find patterns where humans may not and in ways humans may not think of,” he said.
He added that: “In physical reality, there are huge numbers of variables and human beings approximate physical reality.
“AI is the first comprehensive system through which we can truly get closer to a real understanding of what reality is.”
Husain cited the defense industry as among those undergoing drastic changes with the ongoing shift towards autonomy.
Citing a recent demonstration by Boeing of an autonomous flight of an electronic warfare aircraft, he said: “Autonomy is being brought to the fore at a pace that changes the fundamental way in which wars are fought.”
Husain said intelligence will be the defining characteristic of sixth-generation aircraft, outmaneuvering human experts who have trained their entire lives in such scenarios.
“With automotives, when we think of self-driving cars, we think AI will drive the car but it’s just the beginning,” Husain said.
“When it does that stage, the car will become a cognitive information space and workspace because our attention will be focused on what the environment interacting with AI is producing.
“There’s a revolution (underway) in many industries.”
Estonia is widely lauded as the world’s most advanced digital country and is likely to play a leading role in shaping the 4IR.
On hand at the Milken MEA Summit on Tuesday was Taavi Kotka, the first chief information officer of Estonia-based Proud Engineers, who believes what will differentiate countries in the near future is the ability to combine data sets from the private sector with government information.
“The government has a huge amount of information about health care, education, taxes and the economy,” he said. “But only some countries — Northern European states, China and Singapore — can combine that data with private information.”
Kotka said the “definition of a country, the services available and the ways in which we operate” are changing. Under the circumstance, countries that are able to combine government and private sector data will be the winners of the future.
Even though countries like Sweden and China have different models of governance, the core of how data is collected, exchanged and combined is the same from an engineering perspective, he said.

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Saudi Arabia, the most reliable supplier of oil and soon gas

Updated 6 min 40 sec ago

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Saudi Arabia, the most reliable supplier of oil and soon gas

  • The development of the gas sector comes as the Kingdom seeks to diversify its economy

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia already has one of the world’s largest proven reserves of conventional gas of about 300 trillion cubic feet. There are also unconventional gas reserves, with estimated reserves of more than 600 trillion cubic feet.

The development of the giant Jafurah gas field in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia will catapult the Kingdom to the forefront of gas producers in the world.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), the US is ranked 4th globally with gas reserves of 464 trillion cubic feet. This was before the discovery of the Jafurah gas field that will add 200 trillion cubic feet to the already proven 300 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves in the Kingdom, bringing the grans total to around 500 trillion cubic feet.

So this means Saudi Arabia will overtake the US in the list of countries with the biggest gas reserves.

Moreover, the giant Jafurah gas field is located near existing export facilities which will make its delivery to customers much quicker and easier — a benefit not shared by many of the other recent gas discoveries worldwide.

While Russia still holds the world’s largest natural gas reserves, Russian gas is delivered mostly to Europe via pipeline, and does not benefit from extensive LNG infrastructure that would allow the gas to be exported by ship worldwide to various destinations.

The development of the gas sector comes as the Kingdom seeks to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on crude oil sales. It will help to power the next generation power and desalination plants while also providing the feedstock for the petrochemicals sector that converts ethane to ethylene.

Even before this latest discovery, gas has been playing a progressively more important role in the Kingdom’s economy.

In fact it has expanded to account for almost 57 percent of the Kingdom’s energy mix, and the goal is to reach 75 percent by 2030.

Already the world’s largest and most reliable oil exporter, the Kingdom will now be able to add gas to that claim.