How Saudi Arabia is indigenizing the AI revolution and future-proofing its workforce
Digitalization and emerging technologies are forecast to contribute some 2.4 percent to the Kingdom’s GDP by 2030
Saudi Arabia’s investments in technology align with the objectives of the Vision 2030 economic diversification agenda
Updated 48 min 1 sec ago
JEDDAH: In the coming years, artificial intelligence technology is expected to transform economies, business practices and the way people live, work and consume. Conscious of these potentially momentous changes on the horizon, Saudi Arabia is pouring investments into AI research and development.
The Kingdom launched its National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence in October 2020 aimed at becoming a global leader in the field, as it seeks to attract $20 billion in foreign and local investments by 2030.
Saudi Arabia is also determined to future-proof its workforce, for a start by training and developing a pool of 20,000 AI and data specialists.
Riyadh’s adoption of digitalization and emerging technologies is forecast to contribute some 2.4 percent to its gross domestic product by 2030, according to a recent report by global consultancy firm PwC.
In terms of average annual growth in the contribution of AI by region, Saudi Arabia is expected to grab a 31.3 percent share in the technology’s expansion between 2018 and 2030, the PwC report added.
“I believe that Saudi Arabia has a huge potential,” Ali Al-Moussa, a Saudi entrepreneur and AI expert, told Arab News.
“Being in the field for years now, I saw a lot of smart, talented people who are able to compete with (others around) the globe to create great technologies, not only artificial intelligence, but everything from robotics to blockchain, you name it.”
Saudi Arabia’s drive toward new technologies aligns with the objectives of the Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification agenda, which aims to strengthen the Kingdom’s position as the regional leader in the field.
Al-Moussa says Vision 2030 has created a “lot of opportunity in the market,” empowering and enabling Saudi entrepreneurs to “imagine different applications” and to begin establishing tech startups.
“They build technologies, and they conduct research, and there is a lot of energy,” he said.
Interest in AI has boomed since ChatGPT, a large-language model developed by Microsoft-backed startup OpenAI, became a viral sensation when it was released in November 2022.
Conversations with the chatbot show that the program can explain complex scientific concepts, compose plays and poetry, generate university dissertations, and even write functional lines of computer code.
Its emergence kicked off fierce competition among Silicon Valley rivals for monetization of what software engineers call “generative AI,” including Google’s Bard, and more recently LLaMA developed by Facebook parent company Meta Platforms.
Meta recently released an AI model capable of translating and transcribing speech in dozens of languages, a potential building block for tools enabling real-time communication across language divides.
The company said in a blog post that its SeamlessM4T model could support translations between text and speech in nearly 100 languages, as well as full speech-to-speech translation for 35 languages, including Modern Standard Arabic.
This and other more advanced programs are expected to transform decision-making, automation, and creative problem-solving across industries, from healthcare and finance to transportation and entertainment.
The emergence of these technologies will inevitably impact the labor market and make it necessary for nations to invest in training and education for their emerging workers, so that they have the tools to prosper in a fast-evolving economy.
“Saudi Arabia’s youth are particularly adaptable to technology and are eagerly experimenting with these tools,” said Al-Moussa.
To nurture this homegrown talent, the Kingdom is actively promoting AI competitions and “hackathons,” encouraging its researchers and students to tackle AI-related challenges to gain valuable hands-on experience.
Although the technology shows immense promise and seemingly limitless potential, experts have urged caution regarding the timing and approach to adopting AI technologies.
A report in March by investment bank Goldman Sachs predicted that AI could soon take the place of 300 million full-time jobs around the world, with 46 percent of administrative jobs and 44 percent of legal jobs risking replacement.
However, it also found that the rollout of AI could boost labor productivity and push global growth up by 7 percent year-on-year over a 10-year period.
Al-Moussa says there are broadly two schools of thought about AI. The first views the technology as “complementary to our lives,” serving essentially as “an augmentation to our abilities.” This type of AI will not negatively impact the job market and, if anything, could enhance the way people live and work.
The other school of thought warns that AI will replace people’s jobs, will be “fast and intrusive,” and “all profit-driven,” causing harm to sections of society.
Rejecting the warnings of doomsayers about an “AI apocalypse,” Al-Moussa predicts that such programs will be primarily used for “repetitive tasks” that do not require “high intellect” or human input.
As part of Saudi Arabia’s preparation of the coming age of AI, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in June approved the establishment of the International Center for Artificial Intelligence Research and Ethics in Riyadh.
Earlier that same month, the Kingdom also established the Global Cybersecurity Forum Institute in Riyadh to harness the potential of cyberspace and support efforts to boost cybersafety on a global scale.
AI advocates have sought to address doubts surrounding the technology by emphasizing the critical importance of transparency and responsible usage.
Whatever the truth of the matter, there is no disputing that the popularity of AI applications in businesses is on the rise.
In May, the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority inaugurated the Center of Excellence for Generative Artificial Intelligence in partnership with the US computing firm Nvidia.
The authority also unveiled an AI chat application of its own capable of answering queries in Arabic known as Allam.
According to the Financial Times, Saudi Arabia recently bought as many as 3,000 of Nvidia’s H100 chips, which cost $40,000 each and are the first designed for generative AI, through the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
Achieving the goal of becoming an AI powerhouse will of course take time as widespread adoption of new systems requires the creation of an AI ecosystem and a strong culture of entrepreneurship.
Collaboration with international partners, investment in local talent, and adherence to global practices and standards in AI development are viewed as the best means of promoting Saudi initiatives in the field.
Al-Moussa believes there is an especially promising future in “homegrown technology” for Saudi Arabia, which will best reflect its language, culture and priorities.
“Nobody better understands us than us,” he said. “We grew up here. We know the culture. So, the kind of AI that can be developed at home is definitely closer to the culture, whether it is generative AI or something related to our environment. Because this kind of experience or this kind of intellect is unique to our country.
“You cannot imagine someone in a different part of the globe developing something for us better than us because we understand our power and our nature better than anyone else.”
Saudi crown prince offers condolences after death of former Italian president
Napolitano died on Friday aged 98
Updated 24 September 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent a cable of condolences to the president of Italy on the death of former president Giorgio Napolitano, Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.
In the cable to President Sergio Mattarella, the crown prince said: “I express to your excellency and the family of the deceased my deepest condolences and sincere sympathy, wishing you constant good health.”
Napolitano, a onetime communist who helped to steer his country through a debt crisis in 2011, died on Friday aged 98.
‘FenaaPhone’ exhibition is a blast from Saudi Arabia’s musical past
Showcasing Saudi artist Saad Al-Howede’s archival collection, the ‘FenaaPhone’ exhibition is a walk through the rich recent history of the Kingdom’s dynamic music scene
Updated 24 September 2023
RIYADH: The spiral stairs of the Diplomatic Quarter’s newest art and creative hub, Fenaa Alawwal, is teleporting audiences back to the origins of Saudi sound until Oct. 12 through the exquisite, one-of-a-kind archival collection of Saudi artist Saad Al-Howede.
As audiences are immersed in the works of legends such as Tarek Abdulhakim, who composed the tune of the Saudi national anthem, and the iconic “Queen of Saudi Pop” Etab, the audiovisual exhibition “FenaaPhone” provides a microcosm that encapsulates the nostalgic music of the Kingdom’s heritage.
Al-Howede told Arab News: “In Saudi Arabia today, the music and cultural scene is growing and rising, and concerts are in every city and space. I wanted to add to that with the archival collection I have — especially around the Saudi National Day, which is a special celebration for us.
“I’ve collected many national songs in the archives by big artists like Talal (Maddah), Mohammed Abdu, Abadi, the Al-Janadriya Operetta, Rashed Al-Majed, Abdulmajid Abdullah … The exhibit, for me, parallels the cultural and musical scene itself.”
• ‘FenaaPhone’ is being held at Diplomatic Quarter’s newest art and creative hub, Fenaa Alawwal, until Oct. 12.
• It was curated by Sawtasura — a research project dedicated to archiving the history of Saudi women through vocal heritage.
• The exhibition consists of five immersive sections across the scenography of the exhibition, designed by Studio Bound.
The event is one of the first to spotlight the emergence of the Saudi pop music scene through a curated dialogue within the timeframe of the late 1950s to the 2000s while also promoting discussion around its significance today.
Curated by Sawtasura — a research project dedicated to archiving the history of Saudi women through vocal heritage — the central principle of “FenaaPhone” is to provide a framework for younger generations to learn about the fast-growing industry.
Tara Al-Dughaither, founder of Sawtasura, told Arab News: “I thought it was important in this moment, where the music industry is growing in a different direction, to understand what it was originally like — and not to think that there wasn’t one before. It was rich and active for so many years.
I thought it was important in this moment, where the music industry is growing in a different direction, to understand what it was originally like — and not to think that there wasn’t one before.
Tara Al-Dughaither, Sawtasura founder
“I felt that it’s important to have the context, in general, of how pop music emerges, because that’s a story that’s relevant and familiar worldwide. To also place the history of music here is not different.”
The trove of collected items lie in five immersive sections across the scenography of the exhibition, designed by Studio Bound.
The journey begins at “Folk to Formal,” where audiences can uncover some context about the music sphere pre-1960s in the region. Music was rooted in native forms of poetry and composition, usually to serve as entertainment or comfort mechanisms during various occasions like weddings or eulogies. Many musicians at the time used the oud, a string instrument, to distinguish their sound including Fahad bin S’ayyed, Mukhled Atheyabi, and Abdullah Al-Salloum.
The section also features a rare magnetic wire recording of the song “On the Road for Prayer” by Isaa Al-Ahsa’l recorded in the ‘50s.
The “Turning from Within” section proceeds from the mid 1960s to late 1970s, where record stores began emerging amid the rise of urban life. This period also showed an increase in establishing private, artist-owned studios and Saudi-owned record companies, as well as women’s access to these spaces as essential figures in the industry.
“We Are Now Live” displays the scene from the early 1980s onwards, where a film recording shows Mohammed Abdu’s 1983 performance in London on display along with press materials of the historic event. Other international performances by artists like Abu Bakr Salem are also displayed.
Throughout the “Make It Pop!” section is a decade of Saudi pop stories published in Arab print publications highlighting events from 1982 to 1992. Many of the works point to Etab, who is the first Saudi female singer to go public and achieve regional star status. Her work transcended regional boundaries, making her an inspiration for many artists at the time — and even now.
“Voices of the Current” features re-imaginings of the poster graphics of 14 influential Saudi artists who helped shape the scene, selected by Sawtasura’s archive assistant Sara Al-Ourfi and designed by Lina Amer.
The exhibition creates an encapsulated experience of the past, offering audiences a chance to immerse in history, listen to authentic live performances, and contrast past writings with modern perspectives. Much of Saudi Arabia’s music content can be found on Youtube and various sites, but none of these are currently mediated.
Al-Dughaither said: “I would love people to learn more about the music here and try to build our music scene from the roots … I would also of course like to call for more investment towards these kinds of projects.”
In the last 10 years, Al-Howede has collected items relating to the heritage of the region, whether it be music, films, electronic devices, newspapers, or magazines.
Speaking about what drives him, Al-Howede said: “My motivation was to preserve history, the memory of the person hearing a song, living through it, and enjoying it, where it’s been sung in various occasions and places. I want people to live through that nostalgia when they see this history displayed 30 years, or more, later.”
The “FenaaPhone” exhibition runs alongside a series of panel discussions, music performances, and a pop-up store.
Saudi Arabia’s senior citizens on a mission to promote exercise, hiking
Abdulrahman Al-Bani, a team member, told Arab News: “The Southern Travelers Team was established on the 88th Saudi National Day. At that time, we walked from Baljurashi to Abha in southern Saudi Arabia”
Updated 24 September 2023
MAKKAH: A group of elderly Saudi travelers is touring the globe to promote sports and the idea that everyone should participate in them on a regular basis to prevent diseases.
The experienced hikers range in age from 61 to 79 years old, and practice their activities year-round, most notably on public holidays. They have scaled numerous summits throughout the world.
They believe that one must exercise regularly, especially hiking, to strengthen the heart and promote good health.
Abdulrahman Al-Bani, one of the founding members of the Southern Travelers Long Distance Team, told Arab News: “The Southern Travelers Team was established on the 88th Saudi National Day. At that time, we walked from Baljurashi to Abha in southern Saudi Arabia.”
He added that on the 89th National Day the group walked a long distance from Abha to Baha and from Baha to Abha the next year. They walked from Abha to Dhahran Al-Janoub on the 91st National Day.
“On National Day 92, we made a trip along a path we called ‘Qyam and Shamam,’ which is a path similar to some European countries. It was 242 km long and passed through ancient villages, museums, and tourist attractions such as parks, mountains and valleys in the beautiful Asir region.”
The team has also started commemorating the Kingdom’s Founding Day with walking trips. Al-Bani explained: “Two years ago, on Founding Day, we walked from Baha Province to Makkah Province, passing through the migration trail from Makkah to Madinah. We made another trip from the Jazan Governorate in southern Saudi Arabia to the last governorate in Baha Province, a distance of 420 km.”
He explained that the team tours all regions and governorates of the Kingdom, holds events and encourages practicing sports through setting an example. It currently consists of 10 members.
One of the valuable aspects of their excursions has been developing a community and getting to know each other. “We got to know each other in walking and hiking activities. The team came together and became harmonious and consistent with each other. We carry a national and societal message to citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia,” Al-Bani added.
He pointed out that the Ministry of Health spends billions to treat diseases such as narrowed arteries, heart disease, diabetes, and cholesterol. These huge amounts of money could be saved if people walk for at least half an hour a day.
“We aspire to be a good role model for young people and the elderly when we walk in cities, parks, and villages,” Al-Bani said, noting that team members “do not suffer from any diseases, not even diabetes or high blood pressure, thanks to the continuous physical effort that they are always keen to do, despite the fact that most of the team members are close to 80 years of age.”
Al-Bani added: “This week, in just one day, the team covered a distance of 21 km in Al-Soudah Mountains, which rise 2,400 meters above sea level. We have extensive experience in walking and hiking. We have become professional, but our message to everyone is do not exhaust yourself. Just exercise regularly.”
He noted that the group had trekked summits such as “the Himalayas, Everest, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa, and the Elbrus Mountains, which are the highest peaks in Europe and Russia.”
He added: “We walked on the Mont Blanc Trail in France, Italy, Switzerland, and the Western Highlands as well in Scotland. The group also climbed the highest peak in the Arab world in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco — Toubkal.”
Saudi Arabia condemns extremist group for tearing up Qur’an outside embassies in The Hague
Such acts clearly incite hatred, exclusion, and racism, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said
Updated 24 September 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia strongly condemned and denounced an extremist group for tearing up copies of the Holy Qur’an outside a number of embassies in The Hague.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry reiterated the Kingdom’s complete rejection of such repeated and hateful acts that cannot be accepted under any circumstances.
Such acts clearly incite hatred, exclusion, and racism, and directly contradict international efforts aiming to spread the values of tolerance, moderation, and rejection of extremism, the ministry said.
The acts also undermine the necessary mutual respect for relations between peoples and countries, the ministry added.
Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands have seen a string of protests in public in recent months where copies of the Qur’an have been burned or otherwise damaged, prompting outrage in Muslim nations.