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.


Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police
Updated 06 October 2022

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police
  • Alaa Al-Hamad spent a year with Indiana State department
  • Author of book on crime committed to Kingdom’s justice system

MAKKAH: A Saudi criminology graduate who spent a year training with the Indiana State Police in the US plans to use her expertise to tackle perpetrators in the country.

Alaa Al-Hamad said her alma mater, Indiana University, nominated her to undergo training with the state’s police department, after fulfilling criteria which included having no criminal record and excelling academically.

During her stint with the Indiana State Police, Al-Hamad dealt with a wide range of criminal activities including murder and theft. She also worked on a high number of suicide cases. She learned to shoot guns and handle German Shepherd dogs in the department’s K9 unit.

Speaking to Arab News, Al-Hamad said that the “experience was enriching” as she would accompany the police following 911 calls and conduct investigations.

Al-Hamad received a scholarship to study computer engineering at Indiana University after completing high school in 2017.

However, she did not enjoy computer engineering, and later “decided to major in criminal justice following the advice of one of her teachers.”

She said it was her ability to “analyze and reach conclusions” that led to her changing course in her studies. She graduated with distinction from the institution.

Al-Hamad has also authored a book titled “Another Kind of Crime” in which she writes about a variety of offenses, including those involving “emotional” abuse.

She said emotional crimes “are deeper” than physical ones, having long-lasting effects on victims, with perpetrators often causing harm unwittingly.

Al-Hamad urged Saudi women to take up studies in the field because there was a great need for committed and educated individuals to work in the criminal justice system.

She said crimes related to drug abuse was a scourge in society, and added that awareness programs should be launched at schools and universities to highlight the “devastating negative effects” it has on society, families and individuals.


KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan
Updated 05 October 2022

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center signed an agreement on Tuesday with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to provide food aid to Afghanistan, which would help alleviate the effects of poverty and natural disasters.

The pact was signed by Ahmed bin Ali Al-Baiz, KSrelief’s assistant general supervisor of operations and programs, and Mohammed Saeed Al-Ayyash, director general of the OIC mission in Afghanistan, at the center’s headquarters in Riyadh.

Under the agreement, 47,400 food baskets weighing 2,938 tons will be distributed to flood-affected and needy families in 24 Afghan provinces, benefiting 284,400 individuals.

Each basket will weigh 62 kilograms and include flour, rice, beans, dates, vegetable oil and sugar.

KSrelief provides aid to those in need across the world.


Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway
Updated 05 October 2022

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway
  • Pupils in grades 3 to 10 targeted in nationwide drive
  • 2,480 students have already registered for aptitude test

A total of 2,480 students have already registered for the 13th edition of the National Project for the Identification of the Gifted, as the annual nationwide drive kicked off on Monday across cities in Saudi Arabia.

The project targets students in grades three to 10, with the closing date for applications on Dec. 15.

The project is organized annually by the King Abdulaziz and his Companions’ Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, Mawhiba, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Qiyas Center.

Students can register through their schools or on the Mawhiba website.

All registered students will have to sit for the Mawhiba Multiple Cognitive Aptitude Test, which will be held between Dec. 18 and Jan. 16 next year at the National Center for Assessment centers across the Kingdom.

The MMCAT is available in Arabic and English, and the test results will be announced on March 14, 2023.

Dr. Amal Al-Hazaa, acting secretary-general of Mawhiba, said that more than 466,000 male and female students have taken the aptitude test since the project’s inception in 2011.

Al-Hazaa said the national project seeks to discover, nurture and empower Saudi talent through the strategic partnership between Mawhiba, the Ministry of Education, and the Education and Training Evaluation Commission.

Selected students are given various sponsorships, including for study at prestigious universities abroad, training camps for international competitions in science, research and innovation, and admission to local academic programs.


Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival
Updated 05 October 2022

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival

RIYADH: Sneaker collectors will be thrilled to know that Riyadh Outlet is currently hosting a festival called Sneak.Me.

Exploring the world of casual footwear, their designs and global reach is the focus of the Sneak.Me festival, which runs from Oct. 1–14 and is the first of its kind in the Kingdom, in Al-Rehab district.

In addition to an array of musical performances, the festival offers attendees sneakers in a variety of distinctive and unique designs, a museum, and an auction that will feature a selection of sneakers, rare and expensive collectibles, and limited editions. 

The Sneaker Museum showcases such items as 1998 Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls signed Air Jordan IV fire red sneakers, and Nike MAG Back To The Future sneakers among others. 

Signed Air Jordan IV fire red sneakers. (Supplied)

The first floor of the museum contains the auction area, and the second the collections of famous sneakers obsessives in the Arab world. 

Prince Faisal Al-Saud’s collection, featuring rare Yeezy Nike shoes, is on show, also including 1998 Jordan 6 Batman boots and Sadu Dunk shoes, made by hand from Saudi Sadu fabric. 

The museum contains 200 rare items as well as stores, brands and international designers specializing in custom designs.

Jordan 6 Batman boots. (Supplied)

British brand Matt B Customs, which makes exclusive hand-crafted costume footwear, came from Manchester to participate in the festival. 

“We create handmade custom footwear from branded shoes like Nike, Adidas, Balenciaga, Dior, and we customize them — we change them, paint them, we put new materials on them, and make it super unique. Also we have a website that you can order from,” founder Matt Burgess told Arab News.

Another British brand, Crep Protect, is also on hand to help you clean your shoes.

Aljan, a worker at Crep Protect, said: “This is our first time in Saudi Arabia, and our business is all about shoe cleaning, how to protect the shoe, and how to keep them clean.”

Crep Protect, a British brand. (Supplied)

The festival features a special area set aside for musical performances by local DJs and hip-hop groups.

A basketball court can be found in the sports zone, which also has a cafe with a unique view. It also hosts discussion sessions about sports and the various cultures of sneakers.

The area has many surprises for visitors such as the barber corner, where the Brazilian barber, Stenio, provides the finest grooming along with braids and dreadlocks by his partner Lil’ Boy. 

(Photo by Abdulaziz Al-Noman)

“Young guys love dreadlocks and I think it’s a great idea to have such a shop here for grooming and braiding because it’s special and different and I didn’t see it in Riyadh before, to have a barber shop among the festival and the turnout is crazy,” Lil’ Boy said. 

“This is my first visit to Saudi Arabia, and I’ve decided to stay and work as a barber because I like it here. Riyadh is nice, and the people here are wonderful,” Stenio said. 

A British personal shopper with A list clients, FTP Kicks, is one of the stores that caught people’s attention. (Supplied)

A British personal shopper with A list clients, FTP Kicks, is one of the stores that caught people’s attention.

“Since I’ve been collecting sneakers for 10 years and have a thorough understanding of them, I started this business in 2015, and everything you see here is authentic, sold out, and has a special backstory,” founder Hamza Inayat said.

Celebrities and influencers approach him for the most sought-after sneakers, he continued: “Once, a famous influencer reached out to me to get her a pair of the Travis Scott X Nike SB Dunk Lows in a size 38, and that size is a unicorn size — very hard to find — my client wanted them fast, and I managed to find them and deliver them to her within three days, and that was the hardest request I’ve had.”


Who’s Who: Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai, CEO of Arabian Coffee Institute

Who’s Who: Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai, CEO of Arabian Coffee Institute
Updated 06 October 2022

Who’s Who: Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai, CEO of Arabian Coffee Institute

Who’s Who: Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai, CEO of Arabian Coffee Institute

Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai is the co-founder and CEO of the Arabian Coffee Institute since January 2022.

The institute, comprised of experts and researchers, educates on all aspects of the coffee value chain, offering a wide range of internationally accredited training courses.

Al-Marwai is also the co-founder and CEO of two other companies in the coffee industry: Coffee Lights and AgriNexsus Ltd.

Coffee Lights specializes in the operation of coffee shops, consultation, training of staff and baristas, and the import and export of coffee. 

AgriNexsus Ltd. is a Ugandan-based organic farming and production company that uses Ugandan Community Supported Agriculture, which allows consumers to get high-quality local and seasonal food directly from certified farmers’ communities.

By leading both these organizations, Al-Marwai offers Saudi cafes a transparent supply chain of authentic specialty coffee served to the Kingdom’s public.

Over the past 12 years, Al-Marwai has founded eight companies in Saudi Arabia, Uganda, the UK and the US. 

During these years in the coffee industry, Al-Marwai has worked in quality assurance and business consultancy, supporting and empowering small businesses to launch and reach new heights.

He is one of 30 licensed coffee graders in the Kingdom; the total number of licensed coffee graders globally is only 3,000.

He is also among the 36 certified trainers in Saudi Arabia’s coffee industry. He has trained and mentored over 2,000 leaders in the coffee sector and entrepreneurship.

Al-Marwai has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Business and Technology in Jeddah.

He holds three master’s degrees: an MBA in multimedia from the University in Malaysia (2009); an MBA in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies from the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship (2018); and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies from Babson College in Massachusetts (2018). 

In 2018, Al-Marwai also earned a diploma in the coffee skills program from the Specialty Coffee Association in London.

Currently, he is pursuing a master’s degree in coffee excellence from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and will graduate in 2023.