Saudi tech experts bring futuristic AI technology closer to reality

Saudis of all ages try out the latest immersive AI technologies at Ithra's Creative Solutions GameDev Zone at Riyadh Boulevard City. (Supplied)
Saudis of all ages try out the latest immersive AI technologies at Ithra's Creative Solutions GameDev Zone at Riyadh Boulevard City. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 August 2022

Saudi tech experts bring futuristic AI technology closer to reality

Saudi tech experts bring futuristic AI technology closer to reality
  • Goal is to establish Saudi Arabia as the main immersive hub in the region, and possibly the world

RIYADH: Saudi technology experts are putting the latest developments in artificial intelligence into the hands of gamers attending a major international festival in the Kingdom.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) has partnered with the Saudi Esports Federation for the Gamers8 event taking place in Riyadh to showcase the most recent advances in augmented and virtual reality technologies.

And Ahmed Abdulrahman, the immersive lab manager on Ithra’s Creative Solutions program, believes the futuristic AI seen in many current sci-fi movies could become publicly available within five to 10 years.




The GameDev Zone interior, buzzing with eager and curious Saudis looking to try the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in Riyadh. (Supplied)

Technologies on show at the festival focus not just on gaming but also interactive and immersive experiences, entertainment, and learning.

Abdulrahman pointed out that the kind of VR gadgets seen in Steven Spielberg’s 2018 adventure film “Ready Player One,” were now readily available. Ithra even had a haptic Teslasuit and glove (technology that can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations, and motions to the user) that members of the public could test out.

FASTFACTS

• One of the Ithra winners’ projects, ‘The Anticipation of Rain,’ lets people sense rain by wearing a VR headset.

• Ithra even had a haptic Teslasuit and glove (technology that can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations, and motions to the user) that members of the public could test out.

“We can put people into some games that utilize all the technologies together, where they can walk around and feel every hit in the game. It’s full immersion. It’s not 2045, it’s 2022,” he told Arab News.




The GameDev Zone interior, buzzing with eager and curious Saudis looking to try the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in Riyadh. (Supplied)

In Riyadh Boulevard City, where Gamers8 is in full flow, the Creative Solutions’ GameDev zone features prototype games developed within 72 hours or less, as well as the program cohorts’ five previous winning designs, plus internationally developed video games.

While the available VR experiences are not fully equipped, they still allow visitors to get the general idea behind the immersive stories.

One of the Ithra winners’ projects, “The Anticipation of Rain,” lets people sense rain by wearing a VR headset. Its developer, Naima Karim, tells how she became paralyzed at a young age, but discovered a love for painting through the influence of rain. “There were so many people who were moved with it, they just took off their headset to cry,” Abdulrahman said.

Other AR projects take users on a journey through the history of the universe or on a mission to find hidden objects, similar to the “Pokemon GO” mobile game.




The main entrance to Ithra's Creative Solutions GameDev Zone in partnership with the biggest Esports festival globally, Gamers8, in Riyadh Boulevard City. (Supplied)

Next to the zone’s five winners’ booths are a selection of internationally developed gaming programs including “The Climb 2,” “Loco Dojo,” “Beat Saber,” and a PS5 Playroom.

Filipe Gomez, Creative Solutions program curator, told Arab News: “There are developers pointing to a future where no screens are going to exist. Everything will be projected.”

Amr Bogari, a conceptual artist and AI enthusiast, said: “This reflects a good mental image over time, and is expected from our government, as it is a great supporter of this development and progress that advances humanity.

“But, in general, it depends on a person’s use. The abundance of technology can reduce the spiritual aspect, and this applies in many examples. Our role is to create a moderate space that combines reality and assumption.”

On the GameDev zone, Gomez said: “The level of engagement from the public was incredible. For me, it really reflects an eagerness to learn and to develop and get ready. The creativity is there.”

The Ithra program team aims to create one-of-a-kind experiences that people of all backgrounds can enjoy.

Abdulrahman said: “They’re all proud. That’s the one word I can say. Everyone who is trying them, when they see them, they’re just amazed about the quality of work even though we call them prototypes.”

And the program goal was to establish Saudi Arabia as the main immersive hub in the region, and possibly the world.

“It depends on us, and stakeholders such as Ithra that pushes a specific agenda that really cares about how the people will be impacted through this transformation, to prepare them to be good decision-makers. When it comes to creative solutions, they create humanistic solutions,” Gomez added.


Health ministry transfers child to Saudi Arabia after heart attack in Kuwait 

Health ministry transfers child to Saudi Arabia after heart attack in Kuwait 
Updated 26 September 2022

Health ministry transfers child to Saudi Arabia after heart attack in Kuwait 

Health ministry transfers child to Saudi Arabia after heart attack in Kuwait 

RIYADH: The Ministry of Health transferred a Saudi child to the Kingdom after he suffered from a heart attack in Kuwait, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Sunday. 

In cooperation with the Saudi Embassy in Kuwait and other stakeholders, the child – who was on life support – was transferred on board a medical evacuation plane that belongs to the defense ministry, according to SPA. 

He is currently being treated at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh.


Saudi podcaster amplifies voices of local, regional creatives

Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)
Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)
Updated 26 September 2022

Saudi podcaster amplifies voices of local, regional creatives

Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)
  • Hatem Alakeel partners with Harrods to build a community of likeminded individuals, bridge generational gap

DHAHRAN: Hatem Alakeel is the most immaculately dressed Saudi podcaster with a heart of gold.

His podcast, Gems of Arabia, which aims to highlight “all the shimmering hidden gems of the Arab world,” recently launched its third season with a big change — he is partnering with world-famous UK-based luxury department store Harrods.

This is the first official Middle Eastern collaboration between Harrods, established in 1849, and an emerging podcast launched in 2021.

I’ve been doing this all my life, like being in a boarding school (in Europe) and being the ambassador to Saudi Arabia representing my country. I hope to continue with what I’ve been doing over the past years and change the perception-based stereotypes and elevate the Saudi culture and Arab culture.

Hatem Alakeel

“Harrods and Gems of Arabia are partnering on a podcast series, themed on bridging the generations through culture,” Alakeel told Arab News. “As two established institutions in their own regions, our podcast and Harrods hopes to facilitate conversations between guests who are excelling in their field, and to provide a bridge between both generations in both the UK and the Middle East.

“We are hosting these special editions of Gems of Arabia from inside Harrods, Knightsbridge,” he said.

A softly spoken and articulate host, Alakeel has found some of the most interesting UK-based Saudis and other Arabs to interview. The new season offers plenty of surprise guests from within the MENA region.

Hatem Alakeel in London where he launched season 3 of his podcast, Gems of Arabia, in partnership with Harrods. (Supplied)

With 18 years of experience, Alakeel first started as a fashion designer with his label “Toby,” modernizing the traditional thobe, and has been elegantly sashaying into each endeavor he has embarked on ever since with his brand consultancy Authenticite.

Although Alakeel is proud of his Saudi heritage and his Jeddah roots, he is mostly based in Dubai. But no matter where he is geographically, he is always passionate about amplifying narratives in the region regardless of where they are from.

For the past four years, he has been writing an online column where he highlights change-makers in the region who are shaping the Saudi landscape in a positive way. He knew it was time to try a different platform to further amplify the voices of those individuals to build on the conversations, so he started the podcast.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The new season offers plenty of surprise guests from within the MENA region.

• Hatem Alakeel lived a significant portion of his life abroad, his mother constantly reminded him not to stray too far away from his heritage and to never compromise on his values.

• This is the first official Middle Eastern collaboration between Harrods, established in 1849, and an emerging podcast launched in 2021.

• For Alakeel, authenticity is the keyword. He is now trying to facilitate opportunities for local creatives to showcase themselves — without excluding Saudis living abroad.

That is something Harrods was attracted to.

“For me, Harrods has been an institution that I’ve always looked up to ever since I was a kid. It really has this kind of nostalgia feeling for me. I believe that the way we have been able to connect was through my podcast during my second season, which I did on the Saudi Cup — it was about heritage,” he said.

As Alakeel become recognized online and offline, he felt a sense of responsibility to help foster a thriving ecosystem for creatives in or from the region. He wanted to create the type of community that he wished he had when he was starting his career.

An un-ironic instagram influencer, he makes sure that his posts are both in English and Arabic. He also genuinely tries to bring out the silver lining in every situation.

The person who has been his anchor is his late mother, Seham Arab, who recently passed away.

Although Alakeel lived a significant portion of his life abroad, his mother constantly reminded him not to stray too far away from his heritage and to never compromise on his values.

His beloved mother’s scent lingers in Alakeel’s life — literally. Every night, he spritzes some of her favorite perfume onto his pillow so he can fall asleep to her memory. However, the bond between mother and son goes well beyond smell, which is known to be the strongest sense tied to memory.

She was the inspiration for his life’s work and the reason he began on his journey trying to uncover hidden gems and treasures within the Arab region. Alakeel calls her his first gem. She also introduced him to Harrods.

“My recollection of my first experience with Harrods was when I was in boarding school and my mom sent me a box of riding gear — it was shoes, a hat, and it was the most immaculate riding gear that I got, because I was horseback riding. So from there, it snowballed into me always going there and appreciating them. I was over the moon to have the opportunity to actually do something with them,” he said.

She would have loved his collaboration with Harrods and how he decided to approach the partnership.

“The approach that I proposed to Harrods is generational and cultural — there’s also a generational bridge that’s being built. And we need to recognize that a lot of the younger generation, Generation Z, for example, is very much inspired more than ever with vintage. Millennials were always so brand-obsessed,” he said.

“So, this is kind of the movement that I’m creating with the podcast — what we’re going to be doing with Harrods — is to highlight the generational bridges existing between both cultures. You know, an idea of how progressive Saudi designers are becoming, how much more exposed they are and how much more we need to kind of see where it’s heading. And this is the kind of conversation we want to have,” he said.

For Alakeel, authenticity is the keyword. He is now trying to facilitate opportunities for local creatives to showcase themselves — without excluding Saudis living abroad.

He wants to try to bridge the different generations that seem somewhat disconnected. A podcast felt like a natural progression to merge all of these elements together. It is a conversational vehicle that will allow different members of communities to express themselves.

It is all about creating a community and building it up.

“I’ve been doing this all my life, like being in a boarding school (in Europe) and being the ambassador to Saudi Arabia representing my country. I hope to continue with what I’ve been doing over the past years and change the perception-based stereotypes and elevate the Saudi culture and Arab culture,” Alakeel said.

Saudis, and indeed Arabs, have shopped at Harrods in London for generations. It is a trusted place to find curated and well-crafted goods. This season’s podcast promises the same.

“Harrods is partnering with game-changers in the local market; trailblazers, designers and entrepreneurs based in the Middle East. The goal is to build a community of likeminded individuals, to provide them with a global platform and wider network of contacts, while allowing Harrods to build relationships with and support the next generation of talent. Harrods’ partnership with Gems of Arabia is a perfect alignment and a brilliant example of this work, ensuring their position in these foreign markets is meaningful and built on cooperation,” Alakeel said.

Tap into season 3 of the Gems of Arabia podcast empowered by @harrods by connecting to @authenticite_by_hatem_alakeel.

 


Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority

Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority
Updated 25 September 2022

Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority

Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi appointed vice president of Saudi survey, geospatial information authority
  • Al-Wasaidi has more than 25 years of experience in aerial surveying, remote sensing, and geospatial information

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s crown prince approved the appointment of Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Wasaidi as vice president of the General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information, Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The authority oversees work in the field of surveying, map production, geographic information, and marine surveying. It also produces and markets geospatial information and services.

Al-Wasaidi holds a MSc in Geospatial and Mapping Sciences from the University of Glasgow, Scotland and another Master’s degree in aerial surveying and remote sensing from the University of Twente, the Netherlands.

He has more than 25 years of experience in aerial surveying, remote sensing, and geospatial information.

Al-Wasaidi has previously worked at the Ministry of Defense and as a general supervisor of geospatial services and surveying at the GASGI.


Saudi education minister signs MoU to support English-language teaching

Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)
Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)
Updated 26 September 2022

Saudi education minister signs MoU to support English-language teaching

Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)
  • The cooperation aims to advance the work between the English Language Center at the Agency of General Education and the group, conducted last year as a part of a project to implement a sample of language curricula in 50 Saudi primary schools

MAKKAH: Saudi Minister of Education Hamad Al-Sheikh recently signed a memorandum with a US group specializing in providing language teaching books, materials and services.

The agreement, signed with CEO of MM American Publishing Group, Giannis Malkogiannis, is to support English-language teaching and learning, and is part of Al-Sheikh’s tour of American universities and research centers.

The meeting touched on cooperation between the Saudi Ministry of Education and the MM Group in providing English-language curricula. The group has previously provided English language curricula for the Kingdom’s schools, from the fourth grade to the twelfth grade. The group also owns a “binary logic” company that provides digital skills curricula and engineering curricula.

The two parties discussed supporting cooperation between the ministry and the MM Group in providing a vision for adding a specific course for languages or the STEM track, in line with best international practices.

The cooperation aims to advance the work between the English Language Center at the Agency of General Education and the group, conducted last year as a part of a project to implement a sample of language curricula in 50 Saudi primary schools.

“What the ministry strives to achieve in learning and teaching English is one of the successful steps in utilizing global expertise in this area,” Ahmed Asiri, an educational consultant and former director of the educational supervision department at the ministry in Taif, told Arab News.

“The US specialists in this field are familiar with and have very high experience in dealing with these age groups. They also have the needed requirements to pass their knowledge on through digital and intensive programs, creating a beautiful learning environment,” he said.

He added that the path taken by the ministry was in compliance with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

“Mastering English will be a helpful instrument to maintain the communication between societies. For instance, all international, cultural and economic relations in various aspects of life all share the same main tool, which is the English language,” he said.

Abdul Rahman Surti, educational supervisor at the ministry, told Arab News that the curricula by MM Publishing Group was considered one of the best educational series. “They were able to serve students, teachers and the entire educational process, and facilitated communication with parents through interactive CDs,” he said.

Surti, who is the author of “Creative Ideas for Teaching English Language,” said that more real-life examples were needed for Saudi students to boost learning.

 

 


Saudi ministry, HR fund sign deal to train 20,000 graduates through Tamheer program

The deal signed by Ahmed Al-Qarawi, Undersecretary of MoMRAH (R) and Turki Aljawini, Director General of HRDF. (Photo/HRDF)
The deal signed by Ahmed Al-Qarawi, Undersecretary of MoMRAH (R) and Turki Aljawini, Director General of HRDF. (Photo/HRDF)
Updated 26 September 2022

Saudi ministry, HR fund sign deal to train 20,000 graduates through Tamheer program

The deal signed by Ahmed Al-Qarawi, Undersecretary of MoMRAH (R) and Turki Aljawini, Director General of HRDF. (Photo/HRDF)
  • The agreement aims to support the training and employment of national cadres in professions related to municipal and rural affairs and the housing sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing and the Human Resources Development Fund recently signed a memorandum of cooperation to train 20,000 male and female graduates in government institutions and companies through the on-the-job training program Tamheer during the next two years.

The partnership between the institutions to qualify human cadres is important, experts and specialists in the training sector said. “One of the most important steps to achieve success in such projects is the insistence of those wishing to work on developing themselves and their abilities through discipline and commitment during training courses,” one expert said.

Majid J. Al-Ghamdi, Presenter of MAHARAT Podcast (L) and Awwad Al-Dhafeeri, CEO of Shabakat ABAD training Institute. (Supplied)

The agreement signing was attended by Minister of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing Majid Al-Hogail, Minister of Transport and Logistics Services Saleh Al-Jasser, Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadli and Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb.

It was signed by Turki Al-Jawini, director general of the Human Resources Development Fund, and Ahmed Al-Qarawi, undersecretary at the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing.

The agreement aims to support the training and employment of national cadres in professions related to municipal and rural affairs and the housing sector; in addition to upgrading the skills of private and nonprofit sector employees and job seekers to enhance their employment opportunities in the labor market.

The memorandum launches joint initiatives to enhance the professions related to the sector, unifies efforts with the authorities to support the growth and sustainability of national cadres in the labor market, and promotes the localization of municipal, rural and housing professions in the private sector.

This come within the efforts of the two parties to support the employment of young men and women, and to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 on human and economic development.

The memorandum includes several initiatives, inclduding on-the-job training program, electronic training, supporting the growth of small and medium enterprises operating in the sector, in addition to empowering the national workforce in the nonprofit and private sector by supporting their training and upgrading their professional skills to enhance their sustainability in the labor market and keep pace with changes.

The memorandum said that the two parties would work to hold meetings to promote the localization (Saudization) of professions in the sector, study the needs of the private sector, develop supportive plans to promote Saudization and develop national cadres, and raise the awareness of institutions operating in the sector about the fund’s programs and services and the mechanism for benefiting from them, through workshops and periodic meetings.

“Training, qualifying and supporting fresh graduates to get a job in the labor market is a great responsibility and is not an easy task, this is the answer of why the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing seeks to train thousands of graduates in government institutions and distinguished companies,” said Awwad Al-Dhafeeri, CEO of Shabakat ABAD training institute.

He praised the support of several government agencies for the development and education process and the enrichment of electronic training content. “This will contribute to the providing of qualified cadres with strong scientific and practical skills and keep pace with the rapid development that is taking place in the market,” Al-Dhafeeri said.

“The step of the contributors will support the training process, employ national cadres, and raise the level of skills of private and public-sector employees and job seekers to enhance their employment opportunities and their sustainability in the labor market,” he said.

Al-Dhafeeri, who has been running training centers for 15 years, said that “launching joint initiatives to promote professions related to all sectors, and unifying efforts with relevant authorities to support the growth and sustainability of national cadres in the labor market and promote the localization (Saudization) of professions which stand as pillars of building and developing our dear Kingdom.”

“One of the most important steps to achieve success in such projects is the insistence of those wishing to work (job seekers) on developing themselves and their abilities through discipline and commitment during training courses,” he said.

Al-Dhafeeri urged new graduates to choose the right place and expert trainer to establish a solid base of information on which they could build on what they learned during their studies, and reinforce their accumulated experiences during their practical practice in their professions.

Majid Al-Ghamdi, presenter of MAHARAT Podcast, said that “the Saudi Vision 2030 focused on developing the human element, which is the basis of creativity and progress, so today we see such a high number, we are talking about 20,000 graduates of both sexes, who will receive on-the-job training.”

Al-Ghamdi, who previously headed the training and development department at the Saudi Broadcasting Authority, said: “As training specialists and workers in the training field, we consider the importance of building real skills in the practical field, which is a process of bridging between education and the career field and labor market, based on the existence of a related problem in the labor market.”

“Many parties (employers) demand previous experience as a requirement to employ new graduates, so this positive cooperation between many of the government agencies came to solve this real big problem and build the concept of on-the-job training on one hand, and building job experiences on the other,” he said.

“We live in a time of skills, not just certificates, because the field always requires practical skills, soft and hard skills, present and future skills, and all of this comes with continuous training and development,” he said.