Is the Arab world ready for the uncertain age of AI-powered web tools?

Special Is the Arab world ready for the uncertain age of AI-powered web tools?
Thousands attended February’s LEAP 2023 conference in Riyadh, where the biggest names in tech showcased their products and discussed industry trends. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 09 March 2023

Is the Arab world ready for the uncertain age of AI-powered web tools?

Is the Arab world ready for the uncertain age of AI-powered web tools?
  • Described as a “tipping point” in artificial intelligence, ChatGPT and Bard pose both challenges and opportunities 
  • Arab countries will have to deal with chatbot tools’ potential for destroying jobs and creating new ones

DUBAI/RIYADH: Silicon Valley startup OpenAI caused a sensation when it released ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot tool capable of formulating detailed, human-like answers on a seemingly limitless range of topics. In retrospect, that was just the start. 

Google has since announced its own web tool, Bard, in an apparent bid to compete with the viral success of ChatGPT. Both tools are built on large language models, which are trained on vast troves of data in a way that they can generate impressive responses to user prompts.

Conversations with ChatGPT — GPT stands for Generative Pre-Trained Transformer — show that the program is capable of explaining complex scientific concepts, writing plays and poetry, composing university dissertations, and even crafting functional lines of computer code. 

Such programs can hold a conversation with any human user, no matter their IT experience or background. They have also written fake scientific reports, convincing enough to fool scientists, and even been used to write a children’s book.

Described by some experts as a “tipping point” in artificial intelligence technology, ChatGPT responds to “natural language questions on any topic and gives in-depth answers that read as if they were written by a human,” according to the World Economic Forum. 

Conversations with ChatGPT — GPT stands for Generative Pre-Trained Transformer — show that the program is capable of explaining complex scientific concepts. (AFP)

However, the web tools of Microsoft-backed OpenAI and Google have raised fears about their potential misuse to spread disinformation, orchestrate sophisticated deep fake scams, cheat in school exams, and even destroy writing jobs, rendering authors, journalists, and marketing professionals redundant. 

How the technology is received, responds and is eventually regulated will be closely watched by several of the Arab Gulf states, many of which have launched their own national strategies for adopting and investing in AI.

Saudi Arabia launched its National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence in October 2020, aimed at making the Kingdom a global leader in the field as it seeks to attract $20 billion in foreign and local investments by 2030. 

The Kingdom also aims to transform its workforce by training and developing a pool of 20,000 AI and data specialists. 

The UAE has likewise made AI investment a top priority, becoming the first nation in the world to appoint a minister of state for artificial intelligence. Omar Sultan Al-Olama took on the brief in October 2017 to spearhead the UAE’s expanding digital economy.

The Middle East is projected to accrue 2 percent of the total global benefits of AI by the end of the decade, equivalent to $320 billion, with AI expected to contribute more than $135.2 billion to the Saudi economy, according to PwC. 

The Ameca humanoid robot
​​​greets visitors at Dubai’s Museum of the Future. (AFP)

Founded in late 2015, OpenAI is led by Sam Altman, a 37-year-old entrepreneur and former president of startup incubator Y Combinator. The firm is best known for its automated creation software GPT-3 for text generation and DALL-E for image generation. 

OpenAI has long counted on financial support from tech industry leaders, including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, investor Peter Thiel, and Tesla boss Elon Musk, who served on the start-up’s board until 2018. 

In January this year, multinational tech corporation Microsoft upped its initial 2019 investment in the firm worth $1 billion to $10 billion, meaning the company is now valued at roughly $29 billion.

Google’s core product — online search — is widely thought to be facing its most significant challenge since its launch in 1996. Reports claim the enormous attention being attracted by ChatGPT has spurred Google’s management to declare a “code red” situation for its search business.

ChatGPT is being used to obtain answers to questions many people would previously have searched for on Google’ flagship search tool. Last month, Microsoft announced that the next version of its Bing search engine would be powered by OpenAI. Also on the cards is a new version of the Edge web browser with OpenAI chat tech in a window to help users browse and understand web pages.

Unfortunately for Google, Bard had an embarrassing debut in early February when a video demo of the chatbot showed it giving the wrong answer to a question about the James Webb space telescope.

“ChatGPT is indeed very interesting,” Noaman Sayed, a Dubai-based tech professional and co-founder of the online shopping website DeenSquare, told Arab News. 

“If you look into the past, every innovation and advancement has had discussions raised in relation to concern, whether it was planes, cars, mobiles, the internet, Google, YouTube, social media and more. 

“Looking back, we can all say that these have eventually made not only our lives easier, they are also seen as the norm now. I’m very optimistic that with further development and time, ChatGPT will also make our lives easier and shall be the norm.” 

Not everyone is as optimistic as Sayed, however. Given the rapid pace of technological change now underway, many workers are concerned their professional functions will soon be entirely replaced by machinery, in the same way earlier bouts of automation eliminated farming and manufacturing jobs. 

Many industry experts argue such job losses will likely be offset by a rise in the number of new skilled roles in designing, building and maintaining AI products, necessitating a shift in the kind of education governments ought to provide to their future workforce.


• $119.78bn AI’s estimated global market value in 2022.

• $15.7tn What AI is expected to contribute to the global economy by 2030.

• 13x AI industry’s projected growth over next 8 years.

• 97m Projected number of people working in AI by 2024.

Although Sayed accepts AI will alter the way people interact and communicate, he is confident humans will “learn how to adapt with changes over time” in the same way they accepted and adjusted to past technological leaps. In many ways, they already are. 

“Over the last few years, some of us may have already engaged with some form of AI product (knowingly or unknowingly) during our discussion with call centers, websites chatbots, hospital surgeries, Siri, Alexa, some Google products, certain vehicle manufacturers and more,” he said.

Beyond the future job market, chatbots are also creating headaches for educational institutions. Some colleges have reintroduced paper-based tests to stop students from using AI during exams after some students were caught using chatbots to answer test questions.

New York City’s education department has banned ChatGPT on its networks because of “concerns about negative impacts on student learning.” A group of Australian universities have also said they would change exam formats to prevent AI cheating.

On January 27, the Sciences Po school in Paris, one of the most prestigious universities in France, announced that anyone found to have used the chatbot would face “sanctions which can go as far as expulsion from the establishment or even from higher learning.”

Using data harvested from the web, ChatGPT was even able to pass exams at Minnesota University Law School after writing essays on topics ranging from constitutional law to taxation and torts — reportedly earning a C+ grade.

Some companies are now marketing programs they claim can catch a text written by AI to help prevent cheating.

The Middle East is projected to accrue 2 percent of the global benefits of AI by the end of the decade, equivalent to $320 billion. (Shutterstock)

Despite the temptation to rely on such programs to answer exam questions, replace existing search engines, or provide unbiased news coverage, Jenna Burrell, director of research at Data & Society, an independent non-profit research organization based in California, said people need to take ChatGPT’s answers with a pinch of salt.

“ChatGPT simplifies things and is fun to play with. (It) can be very useful for journalists,” Burrell said during a recent webinar on how the technology might impact the work of media professionals. However, the information it gives “is not up to date…(and) there is a need for fact-checking.”

Burrell said AI is not going to be able to replace every professional function, as it cannot fully imitate human innovation, creativity, skepticism, and reasoning.

Furthermore, ChatGPT, which is based on “a large-language model,” is not the only emergent form of AI — and not necessarily its most sophisticated. Reinforcement learning, generative adversarial networks, and symbolic AI are all alternative models that are nipping at its heels.

“Large-language models are trained by pouring into them billions of words of everyday text, gathered from sources ranging from books to tweets and everything in between. The LLMs draw on all this material to predict words and sentences in certain sequences,” Dan Milmo and Alex Hern, the tech editors of the UK’s Guardian newspaper, said in a recent feature.

“LLMs do not understand things in a conventional sense — and they are only as good, or as accurate, as the information with which they are provided. They are essentially machines for matching patterns. Whether the output is ‘true’ is not the point, so long as it matches the pattern.”

Asked directly by Arab News whether it ultimately plans to replace human writers, ChatGPT offered a measure of reassurance — appearing to acknowledge its own creative and analytical limitations in a tone that might be construed as modesty.

“My abilities are limited to generating text based on patterns and patterns I have seen during my training on text data,” ChatGPT said.

“Human writers bring creativity, emotion and personal perspective that I am not able to replicate. Moreover, human writers are able to interpret, analyze and bring their own perspective and insight to a text.”

“Don’t demonize AI as it will be a part of our lives. I insisted that I use it to prove that it can deliver a pretty good speech,” said Ahmed Belhoul Al-Falasi, UAE minister of education. 

ChatGPT said it was programmed to “assist” in content creation on social media, blogs, and websites and write business plans, reports, emails and presentations; legal documents such as contracts; medical reports and summaries; and responses to customer inquiries and complaints.

Despite its many possible applications, in everything from entertainment to medical diagnosis, and its immense investment potential, with forecasts valuing in the trillions of dollars, the age of AI remains fraught with anxiety.

“Trust is key to the safe expansion of the use of AI solutions around the world, Dr. Scott Nowson, PwC Middle East’s artificial intelligence lead, told Arab News at the LEAP technology conference in Riyadh in early February.

While there are “some skills and some tasks that are better suited to automation with technology,” he said, the use of AI is “still contingent upon human intelligence and awareness.”

Nowson added: “There’s as much optimism as there is pessimism over AI. People believe AI will completely replace us when I really don’t think it will. I think we’re many generations away from when AI becomes greater than human capabilities.”

As the nations of the Gulf region pursue their national AI strategies, establishing schools to teach the next generation of tech developers, it is only a matter of time before similar products emerge on the regional market.

Sayed, the DeenSquare co-founder, expects governments, businesses, and tech developers across the Gulf region to follow AI-powered tools’ growth and applications with interest.

“I’m certain that in their upcoming strategy review meetings, the latest trends will be discussed to see how it can assist in their strategy to their advantage.”

Kuwaiti, UN official discuss global food security 

Kuwaiti, UN official discuss global food security 
Updated 04 June 2023

Kuwaiti, UN official discuss global food security 

Kuwaiti, UN official discuss global food security 
  • Kuwaiti deputy FM received UN Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative

KUWAIT: Mansour Alotaibi, Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister, met on Sunday with  Abdullah Dashti, UN Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Kuwait News Agency reported. 

During the meeting, the two discussed issues relating to global food security.

The UN and Turkey brokered the Black Sea Grain Initiative between Moscow and Kyiv last July to help tackle a global food crisis aggravated by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, a leading global grain exporter.

Ukraine would be ready to continue exporting grain across the Black Sea as part of a “plan B” without Russian backing if Moscow pulls the plug on the current grain export deal and it collapses, Ukraine’s farm minister said on Friday.

Palestinian residents ‘in constant fear’ over eviction threat

Palestinian residents ‘in constant fear’ over eviction threat
Updated 04 June 2023

Palestinian residents ‘in constant fear’ over eviction threat

Palestinian residents ‘in constant fear’ over eviction threat
  • Israeli Supreme Court has approved the expulsion of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, claiming the area is a “firing zone”

RAMALLAH: Residents of Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron in the West Bank, are living in constant fear they will be forced from their homes by Israeli troops. 

The Israeli Supreme Court has approved the expulsion of Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, claiming the area is a “firing zone.”

Most roads leading to the collection of villages have been closed by the Israeli army, residents said, while Israel has also allowed the establishment of six settlement outposts in the area.

About 3,000 people live in Masafer Yatta, spread over 14 villages.

Residents, many living in tin-roofed dwellings and in caves, say they will not leave whatever the cost.

The Palestinians say they could be evicted at any time amid an escalation of the Israeli army’s campaign to demolish homes in Area C in the West Bank.

Palestinians’ fears are growing following a rise in the number of violent settler attacks against them and the establishment of settlement outposts on their land.

Settlers also burn residents’ crops, and prevent livestock from reaching pastures or water springs.

Grazing areas have been seized, and residential caves and Palestinian farms destroyed.

There are also concerns over what the Palestinians see as a decline in popular and international pressure on the Israeli government to back down from implementing the court’s decision to evict them.

Masafer Yatta residents on Friday called for urgent action to protect them from attacks and attempts to expel them.

Nidal Younis, head of the Masafer Yatta Village Council, told Arab News that settler attacks on residents have increased dramatically in recent weeks.

The Israeli army tolerates the violence, he said.

Residents have filed complaints with the Israeli police, but to no avail.

Shawan Jabarin, director general of the Palestinian Al-Haq Association for Human Rights, told Arab News that European and international diplomatic pressure on the Israeli government had eased, which may embolden the Israeli authorities to implement the court’s decision to evict the residents.

Palestinian sources believe Israel’s right-wing parties will push to have the West Bank annexed before the fall of the current regime, he said.

Jabarin said the International Criminal Court should pressure the Israeli government to back down on the eviction plan.

Settlers have become “tools used by the Israeli army to seize large areas of Palestinian land, from Masafer Yatta in the south to the northern West Bank,” he said.

Younis Arar, head of the International Relations Unit in the Settlement and Wall Resistance Commission, told Arab News that he feared Israeli military authorities could deport the residents of Masafer Yatta at any moment.

He described any deportation attempt as “a new catastrophe,” and said there was no European, international or even Arab pressure on the Israeli government to discourage it from taking such a step.

The Palestinian National Initiative movement described the Israeli court’s approval of the expulsion plan as ethnic cleansing committed by Israel against the Palestinian people.

“The successive Israeli occupation governments have been seeking for several years, through their arbitrary measures and continuous repression of our people in Masafer Yatta, to uproot and expel them to implement their settlement expansion plans,” it said.

Christian opposition backs Jihad Azour’s nomination for Lebanon presidency 

Christian opposition backs Jihad Azour’s nomination for Lebanon presidency 
Updated 04 June 2023

Christian opposition backs Jihad Azour’s nomination for Lebanon presidency 

Christian opposition backs Jihad Azour’s nomination for Lebanon presidency 
  • MPs press for new election after uniting around single candidate

BEIRUT: Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai has praised Christian politicians as they united around a presidential candidate, in a move that could end a nearly eight-month power vacuum in Lebanon.

His blessings during Sunday sermon came after opposition parliamentary blocs agreed to support the nomination of Jihad Azour, a former minister who is the director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department.

He is expected to contest the presidency against Suleiman Frangieh, the preferred candidate of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and their allies.

Al-Rahi also sent Bishop Paul Abdel Sater on Sunday to meet Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah as part of “dialogue with non-Christian forces, especially Hezbollah, to elect a president for all of Lebanon.”

The bishop is expected to continue visiting all political forces this week.

Sunday’s move by the opposition parliamentary blocs follows an announcement by the Free Patriotic Movement on Saturday.

There is now agreement between Christian MPs, Change MPs and some independent MPs to nominate Azour after Michel Moawad, an MP, withdrew from the election on Sunday.

Some had previously supported Moawad, whom Hezbollah saw as a provocative candidate.

The Progressive Socialist Party bloc is due to announce its position on Azour on Tuesday.

The decision to back Azour by the FPM, the largest Christian party in parliament, came after its leader Gebran Bassil fell out with Hezbollah after the group’s nomination of Frangieh.

“In the event of a call to a presidential election session, the FPM will vote for the agreed-upon name instead of submitting a blank ballot,” he said.

Waddah Sadek, an MP, told Arab News that estimates of the opposition indicate that Azour will receive more than 65 votes, which means he would win if a vote went to a second round.

“The ball will then be in the court of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who has been delaying the call for an election session since January unless he and his allies secure the election of Frangieh,” he said.

MPs have failed in 11 sessions to elect a new president due to the lack of quorum in the second round of each, as a result of the withdrawal of Hezbollah and Amal Movement MPs.

Hashem Safi, the head of the party's political council, dismissed the significance of Azour’s nomination.

“There is no single party capable of electing a president in Lebanon, regardless of the candidate's name, nature, affiliation, color, or political choices,” he said. “Therefore, unless the parties agree with each other, we cannot accomplish the presidential election."

During his sermon, Al-Rahi said: “If the political officials invoked God, they would have elected a president within the two months before the end of Michel Aoun’s term.

“They would have rushed to agree on electing a president that Lebanon needs in the face of complete political, economic, financial, and social collapse.”

Mohammed Khawaja, an Amal MP, said that the nomination of Azour was a ruse to block Frangieh, adding that he lacked the reformist vision that Lebanon needed.

Former MP Fares Souaid, head of the National Council to End the Iranian Occupation of Lebanon, described the Christian parties’ reconciliation as “brave.”

He said that confronting Hezbollah could not be done through ballot boxes or electoral alliances.

“The confrontation lies in re-forming internal unity around the Lebanese choice based on the Taif Agreement and coexistence,” he said.

“Confronting one sect against another is dangerous. A ballot box against a gun is dangerous. Spreading illusions in the face of killing is dangerous.”

Dubai Customs seizes narcotics destined for Canada 

Dubai Customs seizes narcotics destined for Canada 
Updated 04 June 2023

Dubai Customs seizes narcotics destined for Canada 

Dubai Customs seizes narcotics destined for Canada 
  • Narcotics found in shipping containers originating from an Asian country

DUBAI: Dubai Customs have aided Canadian authorities with the seizure of more than 547 kilograms of drugs destined for the country, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday. 

The narcotics were found in shipping containers originating from an Asian country. Officers used sophisticated systems for tracking suspicious shipments, the news agency said.

The drug seizure was in line with the authority’s efforts to combat cross-border crimes and prevent the trafficking of illegal substances, it said. 

Dubai Customs Director-General Ahmed Mahboub Musabih  commended his officers “for their exceptional work in intelligence analysis, shipment tracking, and the seamless exchange of information and expertise in all aspects of security and customs operations.”

Dr. Khaled Al Mansouri, Director of Customs Intelligence Department at Dubai Customs, added: “The aim is to bolster the UAE's standing in global security. 

“To this end, the government organization dedicates all its resources and capabilities to safeguarding the global supply chain. 

“With internally developed innovative systems, Dubai Customs effectively analyzes data and monitors high-risk operations, driven by its skilled workforce.”


Houthis fire Sanaa commerce chamber leaders over criticism

The Houthis have dismissed the leaders of Sanaa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. (Sanaa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry)
The Houthis have dismissed the leaders of Sanaa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. (Sanaa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry)
Updated 04 June 2023

Houthis fire Sanaa commerce chamber leaders over criticism

The Houthis have dismissed the leaders of Sanaa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. (Sanaa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry)
  • Militia ‘imposed own prices, stole and let goods rot’
  • Iran group accused of wanting their own firms to benefit

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have dismissed the leaders of Sanaa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, days after the chamber issued a strongly worded statement condemning the militia’s harsh measures against the private sector in areas under their control.

Yemeni government officials and local activists said that armed Houthis stormed the chamber building in Sanaa and replaced the chamber’s chief and his deputy with allies.

In a rare recent statement, the Federation of Yemeni Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Sanaa Chamber of Commerce and Industry accused the Houthis of imposing a price list without their consent, preventing traders’ goods from entering the militia’s territories, allowing those goods to rot, and selling them without telling traders.

The two merchant unions also stated that the Houthis shut down businesses without providing any justification and delayed for months the issuance of new business licenses or the renewal of existing licenses.

Some Yemenis claim that the Houthis have never tolerated criticism, and punished the Sanaa chamber leader and his deputy by replacing them with “inexperienced” loyalists. They also assert that chambers of commerce executives are elected by members and not appointed by the state.

The Houthis’ severe policies, according to many Yemenis, are aimed at favoring the militia’s parallel business and trade sectors, warning that a collapse of the private sector in densely populated areas under its control would exacerbate the humanitarian situation and result in people starving.

“This perilous step confirms the Houthi militia’s continued implementation of its plan to destroy the private sector and eliminate commercial houses in areas under its control in favor of companies and investors loyal to it,” Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said in a tweet.

At the same time, Yemen’s Interior Ministry said the Houthis demolished a house belonging to Maj. Gen. Abdullah Yahyia Jaber, the deputy interior minister, in Sanaa’s Geraf neighborhood, the latest in a series of such actions.

Jaber is one of hundreds of Yemeni politicians, officials, military and security officers, journalists, and others who fled Sanaa following the Houthi military takeover in late 2014. The Houthis condemned them in absentia and confiscated their homes and other properties, turning a few into detention facilities, handing some to supporters, and selling others.

The Houthis also blew up the home of Ali Ahmed Al-Hejazi, a pro-government tribal leader in Marib’s Serwah area, over the weekend.

“The group has a lengthy history of murdering, kidnapping, displacing, bombing homes, recruiting children, and kidnapping women, among other crimes,” the Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms said in a statement, adding that the Houthis have blown up more than 700 of their opponents’ homes since early 2015.