Robots: Allies during virus pandemic, enemies later?

Robots: Allies during virus pandemic, enemies later?
A doctor speaks with a patient via Mitra, a robot equipped with a thermal camera. (AFP)
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Updated 18 June 2020

Robots: Allies during virus pandemic, enemies later?

Robots: Allies during virus pandemic, enemies later?
  • Humanoid helpers face rising ‘robophobia’ as global alarm over job losses grows

PARIS: When human contact needs to be kept to a minimum, robots can save lives and factories. But when the coronavirus crisis is over, will they amplify job losses?

It may be a mechanized arm pulling beers in a Seville bar, a dog-like dispenser of hand sanitiser in a Bangkok mall, a cooler on wheels that delivers groceries in Washington, or a vaguely humanoid greeter at a Belgian hospital that also checks you are not running a fever.

These are some of the new jobs that robots have taken on as lockdown measures have seen humans confined to their homes.

“The moment there is a threat for humans, you should send a robot,” said Cyril Kabbara, co-founder of the French startup Sharks Robotics.

Its robot Colossus helped save Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral when flames engulfed its roof in 2019, and has been adapted to help remove lead that contaminated the site.

“Four or five years ago, when we went presented the Colossus, they laughed at us. The firefighters said: ‘These guys are going to take away our jobs’,” said the entrepreneur.

But the Colossus has since been successfully integrated into the Paris and Marseille fire services.

“The more we advance, the more the resistance falls away,” he said.

It is not just in the hygiene and medical spheres where robots have made advances.

“This crisis has demonstrated that you have to have a capacity to continue activity even when a health or another type of crisis strikes,” said Kabbara.

“We’ve had quite a few manufacturers tell us that the robots allowed them to continue operating. And if they hadn’t had them, they’d be at a dead stop.”

While owners like robots as they can keep operations running, workers can see them as a risk to their jobs.

Rightly so, according to Brookings Institution researcher Mark Muro.

“Recent research suggests that the deepening recession is likely to bring a surge of labor-replacing automation,” he said in a recent note for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“People who suggest that automation is not taking away jobs in manufacturing, they’re just wrong,” said Oxford University economist Carl Frey.

He pointed to China, a country which is rapidly installing industrial robots, with 650,000 going online in 2018 alone, and which lost 12.5 million manufacturing jobs between 2013 and 2017.

The country has seen an explosion in “robophobia” during the coronavirus crisis, according to a study by Spanish university IE.

While only 27 percent of Chinese supported limiting automation before the crisis struck, the figure has doubled to 54 percent.

The Chinese are now close to the French, who at 59 percent, are the most hostile to automation.

The study also revealed that hostility toward automation was tied to age and education, with the younger and less educated people most hostile toward robots.

“Historically, technology has created a lot of jobs as well, but you see less of that happening in the digital world,” said Frey.

He pointed to automakers or manufacturers like General Electric still employing many workers even after adopting automation.

“The leading techs of today are not creating so many jobs, apart from Amazon,” he said.

With the rapid progress made in artificial intelligence, white collar workers are increasingly at risk from automation, experts warn.

“No group of workers may be entirely immune this time around,” said Muro.

That is not to say that high levels of automation cannot coexist with low unemployment. Singapore and South Korea are at the top of the rankings for deployment of robots compared to the size of the workforce and yet they enjoy low unemployment.

Nevertheless, Frey warns of rising anxiety about robots stealing jobs once the immediate fear of the coronavirus recedes.

But he doubts a worldwide movement against automation will gain traction as job losses are a local phenomenon and tend to happen in regions that have long suffered from manufacturing jobs disappearing.


Saudi Arabia announces launch of Soudah Development Company

Saudi Arabia announces launch of Soudah Development Company
Updated 25 February 2021

Saudi Arabia announces launch of Soudah Development Company

Saudi Arabia announces launch of Soudah Development Company
  • The company aims to attract more than two million visitors annually, and create 8,000 direct and indirect permanent jobs by 2030
  • Investment of $3 billion in tourism infrastructure and attractions to create a world-class mountain destination in the Asir region

RIYADH: Saudi crown prince and chairman of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Mohammed bin Salman, announced on Wednesday the launch of the Soudah Development Company (SDC) in the Asir region.

The new entity, fully owned by PIF, will lead the development of a luxury mountain destination with immersive cultural experiences. It will be a celebration of natural assets empowering the local and national economies.

Launched to be a key driver of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 ambitions, SDC will infuse SR11 billion ($3 billion) into infrastructure and tourism projects, aimed at enhancing the visitor experience in Soudah and parts of Rijal Alma’a governorate.

The planned developments include 2,700 hotel rooms, 1,300 residential units, and 30 commercial and entertainment attractions.

SDC aims to develop Soudah and Rijal Alma’a into a repeat, year-long sustainable destination for residents and visitors that will contribute an estimated SR29 billion to the Kingdom’s cumulative GDP by 2030.

FASTFACT

Tourism

SDC to collaborate with the private sector to enhance tourism infrastructure with hotel, residential units and commercial and entertainment attractions by 2030.

The company also intends to partner and collaborate with the local community and private sector to build a robust and diverse network of year-long offerings across the hospitality, residential, commercial and entertainment sectors.

It aims to attract more than 2 million visitors annually, targeting adventure-seekers and culture travelers who are looking for one-off experiences. It is also forecast to create 8,000 direct and indirect permanent jobs by 2030.

“Our investment in the Asir region reflects our confidence in the character of the location, which is a rich amalgamation of identity, heritage and experience,” said Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan, PIF governor. “Through careful and considerate development, SDC will provide yet another remarkable destination in the diverse and growing portfolio of Saudi Arabian experiences capturing the imagination of a broad range of investors and travelers.”

The fund will inject at least SR150 billion a year into the local economy and aims to grow assets under management to more than SR7 trillion by 2030.

The destination adds another dimension to Saudi Arabia’s ambitious tourism goals, and complements those destinations created on the Red Sea coast and around the capital city of Riyadh.

Preserving the environmental integrity of the destination will be a priority for the SDC, and the development will follow a rigorous regulatory framework and urban planning code.


PIF makes billions on its investment in Lucid Motors

PIF put $1 billion into Lucid in 2018, giving it a majority stake in the California-based company when it was at the early stages of designing advanced luxury electric cars. (Supplied)
PIF put $1 billion into Lucid in 2018, giving it a majority stake in the California-based company when it was at the early stages of designing advanced luxury electric cars. (Supplied)
Updated 24 February 2021

PIF makes billions on its investment in Lucid Motors

PIF put $1 billion into Lucid in 2018, giving it a majority stake in the California-based company when it was at the early stages of designing advanced luxury electric cars. (Supplied)
  • Saudi stake in Californian electric vehicle maker is proving a profitable step

DUBAI: The Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s premier investing institution, has seen a multi-billion dollar increase in the value of its investment in Lucid Motors, the fast-growing Californian electric vehicle manufacturer, as a result of recent transactions.

PIF put $1 billion into Lucid in 2018, giving it a majority stake in the California-based company when it was at the early stages of designing advanced luxury electric cars. With the first model, the Air, unveiled and set for first delivery this year, that stake is now worth a lot more.

In a complex financial transaction recently unveiled in the US, Lucid will merge with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC — a company specifically designed to get an initial public offering (IPO) and a valuation on a stock market.

The SPAC involved with Lucid is Churchill Capital Corp IV, a creation of investment banker Michael Klein, who is well known for his investment advisory work in the Kingdom, including the record-breaking IPO of Saudi Aramco in 2019.

The SPAC deal gives Lucid a formal valuation of $24bn, and the PIF remains the majority investor in the new set-up.

The Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s premier investing institution, has seen a multi-billion dollar increase in the value of its investment in Lucid Motors. (Supplied)

The PIF declined to give a detailed breakdown of the value of its investment, but the documents published in the SPAC transaction show it at around $15bn - and will possibly be worth a lot more once vehicles start being sold.

Shares in Churchill gyrated wildly in the days before the deal with Lucid was formally announced but settled well above the value at which PIF and other big investors bought into the company.

The influential Lex column of the Financial Times said: “The biggest winner is Lucid’s largest current shareholder, Saudi Arabia’s PIF.”

Peter Rawlinson, the chief executive of Lucid who formerly worked at rival electric car company Tesla, told journalists: “I think that the valuation is a reflection of our technology.”

Electric vehicles have been one of the big investment themes of the past year, with Tesla — the market leader — soaring to a market capitalization of $670bn, bigger than all the traditional car manufacturers combined and making its founder, Elon Musk, one of the richest men in the world.

Peter Rawlinson, the chief executive of Lucid Motors. (Supplied)

Rawlinson is unfazed by Tesla’s size or reputation. Last year, in the run up to the launch of the Air, he told Arab News: “We’ve got the best car in the world, but I’m more excited to know that we have technology that can cascade down to more affordable models for the man in the street. That’s what is going to change the world.”

For the PIF, the investment in Lucid is a demonstration of the value of its approach of taking strategic stakes in foreign companies. Last year, it spent $10bn buying US and European equities when they slumped in value after the pandemic crash, which it later sold when markets recovered.

There could also be an industrial benefit from the PIF-Lucid relationship. There has been increasing speculation that Rawlinson will choose Saudi Arabia as the first location for a manufacturing facility, with a site near Jeddah mentioned as a possible production plant.

Rawlinson said of PIF: “They put their faith in us, that’s why we’re here today thriving.”

The deal with Churchill will give Lucid the capital it needs to go into full-scale production of the Air from a new production facility in Arizona, and to move plans forward for an electric SUV.


IMF chief warns pandemic leaving some countries behind

IMF chief warns pandemic leaving some countries behind
Updated 24 February 2021

IMF chief warns pandemic leaving some countries behind

IMF chief warns pandemic leaving some countries behind

WASHINGTON: The crisis caused by the pandemic is leaving many economies lagging behind, increasing the plight of the poor, a problem made worse by “uneven” access to vaccines, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said Wednesday.
In a message to the Group of 20 meeting on Friday Georgieva urged governments to increase vaccine distribution, ensuring Covid-19 is brought under control.
“The economic arguments for coordinated action are overwhelming,” she said in a blog post.
“Faster progress in ending the health crisis could raise global income cumulatively by $9 trillion over 2020-25. That would benefit all countries.”
She said that should include financing for vaccinations, reallocation of excess supply to countries with a shortage, and scaling up of production.
The global pandemic death toll is approaching 2.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, and the shutdowns forced to control infections have devastated economies.
And while vaccine rollouts are raising hopes for a recovery this year, the IMF forecasts job losses in the G20 alone to total more than 25 million this year.
By the end of 2022, emerging market and developing nations — excluding China — will see per capital incomes 22 percent below pre-crisis levels, compared to just 13 percent lower for advanced economies, which will throw millions more into extreme poverty, Georgieva warned.
“That is why we need much stronger international collaboration to accelerate the vaccine rollout in poorer countries,” she said.
G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs led by Rome will meet by videoconference to discuss the state of the recovery and how best to attack the problem.
The Washington-based crisis lender estimated more than half of the world’s 110 emerging and developing countries will see their incomes fall further behind advanced economies through the end of next year.
And the virus-driven economic crisis also will widen income gaps within developing nations, especially as millions of children are still facing disruptions to education.
“Allowing them to become a lost generation would be an unforgiveable mistake. It would also deepen the long-term economic scars of the crisis,” she warned.


Pfizer eyes investment, recruitment, R&D in Kingdom

Pfizer eyes investment, recruitment, R&D in Kingdom
Updated 24 February 2021

Pfizer eyes investment, recruitment, R&D in Kingdom

Pfizer eyes investment, recruitment, R&D in Kingdom
  • Pharma giant transforming its Saudi operations amid COVID-19 vaccine rollout

RIYADH: Pfizer is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies and has been operating in Saudi Arabia for six decades, but many people in the Kingdom will have come to know the brand only as a result of its work developing a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine.

Patrick van der Loo, regional president for Africa and the Middle East, has worked at the company for 20 years and, in December, was appointed to lead the distribution of the vaccine across a challenging and wide-ranging group of countries.

“Saudi Arabia and the GCC kicked off their COVID-19 vaccination drive with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in December as some of the first countries globally to do so. The allocation of doses and implementation plan within a country is a decision for local governments based on relevant health authority guidance,” he told Arab News.

“Pfizer and BioNTech are working relentlessly to supply the world with 2 billion BNT162b2 vaccine doses by the end of 2021. Our Belgium facility’s upscaling work included process improvements to our manufacturing lines, expanding our manufacturing facility with a new production unit, and increasing batch sizes to optimize efficiency,” he added.

Operating in the region for 60 years and with a workforce of 460 employees, Pfizer has a long partnership with the Kingdom. In October 2011, it signed an agreement with the-then Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) — now called Ministry of Investment — to set up its first-ever manufacturing plant in the GCC in King Abdullah Economic City.

In 2016, SAGIA issued a “trading license” to Pfizer, the first multinational pharmaceutical company awarded such a permit. The license gave Pfizer “100 percent foreign ownership” of its legal entity in Saudi Arabia, with the ability to import, export and trade in wholesale and retail products, equipment and instruments, he said.

Construction of the new manufacturing and packaging facility was completed in 2017 and Pfizer is planning to expand further in coming years, as the Kingdom moves closer to realizing its Vision 2030 goals to diversify away from hydrocarbons and increase local production.

“Pfizer is an active player in Saudi Arabia, and is in a continuous dialogue with multiple authorities to explore new opportunities, including investments, to support its vision and objectives,” van der Loo said.

Arriving in the region at a critical time, van der Loo said he is relishing the challenge ahead.

“While this region is new to me, I will gladly welcome new challenges and devote my energy to finding solutions focused on patient outcomes. Working in the region is also offering me the opportunity to get involved in the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine distribution across a wide range of countries, and it is gratifying to be part of something of this scale,” he said.

Patrick van der Loo, regional president for Africa and the Middle East, has worked at the company for 20 years. (Supplied)

According to Reuters, Pfizer is aiming to produce 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines this year, earnings it around $15 billion, or about a quarter of its sales.

While COVID-19 may be his immediate priority, van der Loo is also leading the transformation of Pfizer’s wider portfolio of products across Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East region.

“Pfizer is shifting from a diversified company with a consumer health portfolio and comprehensive portfolio of legacy brands to a more science-focused biopharmaceutical powerhouse. In KSA and the Gulf, we aim to ensure the early introduction of breakthroughs — sometimes some of the earliest in the world, which truly demonstrates the innovative eagerness of specific markets in the Middle East,” he said.

There are currently multiple clinical trial protocols — phase two and three — under review, and some have reached the final stages of development and approval in oncology, vaccine, public health and gene therapy.

“We are also very proud of our collaboration with multiple Saudi research centers to access clinical trials and innovative treatments in the medical field. The trial of gene therapy in Duchenne’s disease at King Faisal Specialty Hospital and Research Center is a milestone,” he said.

Pfizer is also providing training and development opportunities for multiple Saudi entities operating in the healthcare, training and education sectors, as part of the National Transformation Program.

Looking ahead to 2021, van der Loo said Pfizer will have “several product launches in oncology, among other areas, to reach new patients with critical breakthrough treatments and prevention tools.”


Saudi Arabia sees 227% surge in wealthy individuals in last 5 years

Saudi Arabia sees 227% surge in wealthy individuals in last 5 years
Updated 24 February 2021

Saudi Arabia sees 227% surge in wealthy individuals in last 5 years

Saudi Arabia sees 227% surge in wealthy individuals in last 5 years
  • Saudi Arabia bucked Mideast trend, with number of people with over $30m growing in 2020

RIYADH: The number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) — those with $30 million or more — in Saudi Arabia surged 227 percent over the last five years, the fastest growth rate in the world.

According to The Wealth Report by real estate consultancy firm Knight Frank, the number of UHNWIs worldwide will increase by 27 percent in the next five years to 663,483, with the number of millionaires growing by 41 percent.

The report predicts that the number of UHNWIs in the Middle East will rise by 24.6 percent by 2025, with the region expected to remain the fourth-largest wealth hub in the world.

“The pandemic has impacted the fortunes of many in the Middle East, and the Middle Eastern HNWIs and UHNWIs were not spared, with the total number of each decreasing by 11.3 percent and 10.1 percent in 2020 respectively,” said Taimur Khan, head of research at Knight Frank Middle East.

“However, this decline was not uniform across all countries. In Saudi Arabia over this period, the number of UHNWIs increased by 9.6 percent, the 10th fastest growth rate globally. In fact, its UHNW population has grown by 227 percent over the last five years, the fastest growth rate globally over this period,” he added.

“As the region continues its various economic diversification programs, we expect that there will continue to be significant growth in the number of UHNWIs and billionaires residing in the region.”

According to a survey conducted by Knight Frank of private bankers and wealth advisers, half said their clients’ wealth had increased in 2020.

In the Middle East, 67 percent of respondents said their clients’ wealth either remained the same or increased. Sixty-nine percent said they expect their clients’ total wealth to increase in 2021.

The reports found that Asia is likely to see the largest rise in the number of UHNWIs, with growth of 39 percent, led by Indonesia (67 percent) and India (63 percent).

“The US is, and will remain, the world’s dominant wealth hub over our forecast period, but Asia will see the fastest growth in UHNWIs over the next five years. By 2025, Asia will host 24 percent of all UHNWIs, up from 17 percent a decade earlier,” said Liam Bailey, global head of research at Knight Frank.

“The region is already home to more billionaires than any other. China is the key to this phenomenon, with 246 percent forecast growth in very wealthy residents in the decade to 2025.”