How Saudi Arabia is indigenizing the AI revolution and future-proofing its workforce

Special How Saudi Arabia is indigenizing the AI revolution and future-proofing its workforce
Saudi Arabia is determined to future-proof its workforce, for a start by training and developing a pool of 20,000 AI and data specialists. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 September 2023
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How Saudi Arabia is indigenizing the AI revolution and future-proofing its workforce

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

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 this file picture, the chief of the General Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques, Abdul-Rahman al-Sudais, is shown inaugurating the “Information” robot, which would be available in the Grand Mosque and will provide visitors with general information, lectures, lessons, Khutbahs and information about imams and muadhins. (Courtesy: General Presidency of Haramain)

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.




Saudi Arabia’s youth are particularly adaptable to technology and are eagerly experimenting with these tools, says Saudi entrepreneur and AI expert Ali Almussa. (Supplied)

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.




A “guidance robot” has been developed to assist pilgrims and Umrah performers in understanding rituals and fatwas. (Supplied)

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.




Equipped with upper and lower cameras, specialized Zamzam distributing robots with laser sensors help it avoid any surrounding obstacles. (FILE/General Presidency of Haramain)

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.




Introduced amid covid-19 pandemic, specialized robots roam the grounds of the Two Holy mosques distribute Zamzam water. (FILE/General Presidency of Haramain)

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 Arabia’s Mashaer Train transports more than 2.2m Hajj pilgrims 

Saudi Arabia’s Mashaer Train transports more than 2.2m Hajj pilgrims 
Updated 19 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Mashaer Train transports more than 2.2m Hajj pilgrims 

Saudi Arabia’s Mashaer Train transports more than 2.2m Hajj pilgrims 

RIYADH: Saudi Railways on Wednesday hailed the success of the Mashaer Train operation at this year’s Hajj season, saying the metro service had transported more than 2.2 million passengers between the nine stations in Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina, operating 2,206 trips.

More than 29,000 worshippers were transported on the first day of the pilgrimage, while more than 292,000 pilgrims were carried from Mina to Arafat, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Mashaer Train then transported over 305,000 people during the pilgrimage from Arafat to Muzdalifah, and more than 383,000 worshippers from Muzdalifah to Mina.

During the days of Tashreeq, the train carried more than 1.2 million pilgrims from stations Mina 1, Mina 2, and Muzdalifah 3 to Mina 3 station (Jamarat), which offered easy access to the Jamarat Bridge.

Bashar Al-Malik, CEO of SAR, said that the success of the operating plan was built on unlimited support for the railway sector from the Saudi leadership.


Riyadh targets Expo 2030 ‘by the world, for the world’

Riyadh targets Expo 2030 ‘by the world, for the world’
Updated 20 June 2024
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Riyadh targets Expo 2030 ‘by the world, for the world’

Riyadh targets Expo 2030 ‘by the world, for the world’
  • Saudi organizers deliver their first progress report to event bureau chiefs in Paris

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is on target to deliver an Expo 2030 “by the world, for the world,” organizers have told event chiefs in Paris in their first progress report since Riyadh was chosen as host city.

Abdulaziz Alghannam, director general of the Riyadh Expo 2030 office at the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, led the Saudi delegation at the general assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions in the French capital.

Efforts were fully underway for Expo registration and preparation for creating the legal framework to enable international participation in the event, he told the bureau.

Riyadh was chosen to host the event at the bureau’s last general assembly in November 2023. The expo will take place  from Oct. 1, 2030 to March 31, 2031, when the Saudi capital will host 197 countries and 29 international organizations.

The theme – “The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow” – encapsulates Saudi Arabia’s commitment to using the Expo to accelerate progress toward the planned sustainable development goals. The event will focus on harnessing science and innovation for a better future.

Preparations are underway at the highest levels, including infrastructure development, legislative and financial measures, the master plan for the Expo site, and legacy plans.


Classic meat dish returns to Jazan tables

Mahshoosh has stood the test of time, maintaining its prominence among the various dishes that grace the Jazan table. (Supplied/
Mahshoosh has stood the test of time, maintaining its prominence among the various dishes that grace the Jazan table. (Supplied/
Updated 19 June 2024
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Classic meat dish returns to Jazan tables

Mahshoosh has stood the test of time, maintaining its prominence among the various dishes that grace the Jazan table. (Supplied/
  • In the past, locals prepared mahshoosh to preserve sacrificial meat in the absence of refrigeration

MAKKAH: The arrival of Eid Al-Adha signals the return of mahshoosh, or Al-Humais — a traditional dish beloved by Jazan locals that is deeply rooted in the region’s cultural heritage.

Mahshoosh has stood the test of time, maintaining its prominence among the various dishes that grace the Jazan table. Its preparation is seen as a revival of an age-old tradition dating back to a time when there was no refrigeration. Local people relied on this dish to preserve the meat from their Eid Al-Adha sacrifices.

Once the meat and fat are cut up, the fat is slowly melted and meat added gradually. (Supplied/Visit Saudi)

While the dish is most associated with Eid Al-Adha, it can be savored throughout the year. Its name stems from the method of preparation, which involves finely chopping meat and fat into small pieces, a process referred to as “Al-Hash” in the local dialect.

The recipe for mahshoosh has been passed down through generations, with women in Jazan taking great pride in preparing it. Once the meat and fat are cut up, the fat is slowly melted and meat added gradually. After the addition of spices, the dish is then left to simmer for several hours with occasional stirring.

HIGHLIGHTS

• While mahshoosh is most associated with Eid Al-Adha, it can be savored throughout the year.

• Its name stems from the method of preparation, which involves finely chopping meat and fat into small pieces, a process referred to as ‘Al-Hash’ in the local dialect.

Finally, the cooked mixture is transferred to a clay container, where it solidifies and can be preserved for several months without losing its flavor.

Lard and meat are chopped up and cooked together to create the rich delicacy. (SPA)

Chef Ahmed Issa Shetifi from the Sabya governorate said mahshoosh was invented out of necessity when people had no means of preserving their food. Cooking it with lard extended the shelf life of the meat.

Preparation methods varied from one household to another, with some families adding only onions while others would include spices such as cardamom and cinnamon.

According to Shetifi, proper preparation involves roasting the lard before the meat is added. The lard pieces should be large, as they dissolve faster.

He added: “This custom continued even after people had refrigerators to store meat and food. In fact, some families still store mahshoosh in rooms or under their beds, where it lasts for a week or ten days before being consumed.

“Later generations began storing it in pots in the refrigerator while others use designated bags, each containing one meal, and keep them in the freezer.”

Mahshoosh is very high in calories and is typically served only during Eid Al-Adha, he said: “Some families dedicate the entire Eid sacrifice to preparing mahshoosh. While it can be enjoyed in moderation, eating it in excess poses a risk of high cholesterol due to its high-calorie content.”

Mahshoosh is typically served with bread, although some people prefer to eat it with rice. It is also part of the traditional Jazan dinner.

 


Unwind and reconnect with nature at these Saudi reserves and resorts

Unwind and reconnect with nature at these Saudi reserves and resorts
Updated 19 June 2024
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Unwind and reconnect with nature at these Saudi reserves and resorts

Unwind and reconnect with nature at these Saudi reserves and resorts
  • Model and actress Maria Eduarda spoke to Arab News about her stay: “Everything was great! The food, the room service, and in-villa dining were amazing … The structure inside the villa is amazing … I loved it — one of the best stops ever”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia boasts a plethora of novel natural reserves and resorts that champion the nourishment of the mind, body, and soul.

From lush mountain ranges to glistening blue waters, the well-preserved environments have become must-visit spots for those looking to discover the Kingdom’s hidden gems and reconnect with nature.

Situated on a pristine private island, the newly opened Nujuma, Ritz-Carlton Reserve marks the brand's debut in the Middle East, featuring coral reefs beneath the water’s surface and a clear view of the night stars, which inspired the name ‘Nujuma’. (Supplied)

Nujuma, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, The Red Sea

Situated on a private island, the newly opened Nujuma, Ritz-Carlton Reserve marks the brand’s debut in the Middle East, featuring coral reefs beneath the water’s surface and a clear view of the night stars, inspiring its name.

Model and actress Maria Eduarda spoke to Arab News about her stay: “Everything was great! The food, the room service, and in-villa dining were amazing … The structure inside the villa is amazing … I loved it — one of the best stops ever.”

Aseel Resort is a one-of-a-kind family experience that merges nature, heritage and luxury. (Supplied)

The resort features 63 one-to-four-bedroom water and beach villas, designed to blend in with the unspoiled natural environment. Guests can indulge in a lavish spa, swimming pools, a range of restaurants, and a retail area.

The Neyrah Spa offers relaxation with a touch of regional ingredients like oud and moringa peregrina tree oil. The wellness services include guided breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, and sound healing therapy.

The relaxing Nofa Riyadh features luxury villas complete with private gardens and swimming pools, surrounded by green lawns, sand dunes and mountains. (Supplied)

The on-site Conservation House is an ode to nomadic exploration, providing a space for guests to get creative, expand their knowledge, and foster a sense of community through resident sustainability, environmental, and cultural experts.

Al-Ahsa Oasis, Al-Ahsa

Boasting natural springs and lush greenery, Al-Ahsa Oasis is the perfect spot for a family getaway. Home to one of the biggest oases in the world and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the limestone hills of Al-Qarah and Al-Ahsa National Park are just a few of the attractions.

For those looking to discover Saudi’s regional flora and fauna, Shada mountain is just an hour and a half drive fromAl-Baha city in the Jabal Shada Nature Reserve. (SPA)

The historical region in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia is filled with potential recreational activities, including water fountain light shows, a football stadium, mazes, and a theater at King Abdullah Environment Park.

Asfar Lake, or Yellow Lake, is an unforgettable site from over the sand dunes, while Souq Al-Qaisariya is one of the oldest markets in the Kingdom for memorable souvenirs.

The Sharaan Nature Reserve spans 1,500 square kilometers, showcasing stunning red-rock canyons, valleys, and desert landscapes. (AN photo by Zaid Khashogji)

Jabal Shada, Baha

For those looking to discover Saudi Arabia’s regional flora and fauna, Jabal Shada is just an hour-and-a-half drive from Baha in the Jabal Shada Nature Reserve. Marked with unusual rock formations, the area is home to unique geological cave formations, reportedly dating back 763 million years and engraved with Thamudic writings and drawings that date back 3,000 years.

Tours are available to book through Akam Aljazerah’s website, and modern stays nearby are equipped with kitchens, balconies, and breathtaking views.

Guests can also immerse themselves in the gastronomic arts by enrolling in a cooking school to master healthy recipes and techniques. (Supplied)

Sharaan Nature Reserve, AlUla

Sharaan Nature Reserve spans 1,500 sq. km, showcasing stunning red-rock canyons, valleys, and desert landscapes.

Safari Sharaan’s guided 4x4 adventures allow guests to explore wildlife like red-necked ostriches and Arabian ibex, and discover ancient rock carvings.

Saudi Arabia has played a crucial role by establishing specialized breeding centers and veterinary facilities for the Arabian oryx. (SPA)

Guests can relax at Habitas AlUla, featuring Thuraya Wellness’ yoga, fitness, and personalized treatment offerings with local oils and teas, or stay in wellness-focused villas like Celestial and Alcove at Habitas.

The Banyan Tree’s tented villas and spa blend Asian and Saudi traditions for unique wellness experiences. Enjoy a secluded rock pool amid mountains, ideal for a refreshing swim and memorable moments.

Nofa Riyadh, Riyadh

The relaxing Nofa Riyadh features luxury villas complete with private gardens and swimming pools, surrounded by green lawns, sand dunes and mountains.

Dareen Al-Rajeh, a senior project associate, said about her stay there: “I liked how it was clean and comfortable with a generous welcome from the staff. The villa has a unique style with your own swimming pool … Walking around the resort, you will pass by a lot of animals, which makes you feel connected to nature … The resort has a spa, a children’s playground, multiple restaurants, and a small lake and boats.”

Guests are encouraged to experience nature on a whole new level at the resort’s incredible Wildlife Park where Asian elephants, Grevy’s zebras, Arabian oryx, and giraffes can be spotted.

Nofa’s on-site 39-seat theater is the place to unwind in style and enjoy daily movie screenings at your leisure or have a family competition at the Nofa Bowling Alley. Younger children can enjoy the Kids’ Adventure Park, an exciting indoor park with action-packed games and a playground.

Aseel Resort, Diriyah

Aseel Resort is a family experience that merges nature, heritage, and luxury. Nestled in the birthplace of the Kingdom, Diriyah, the resort was created as an ode to Saudi history and Najd’s beautiful artistry.

The resort allows anywhere from six to 75 guests, with six farms to choose from. Each one is decorated with ornate art by local creatives. Whether you take a dip in the farm’s private pool or enjoy game nights with your family at the indoor majlis, it’s a space to create lifetime memories.

Six Senses Southern Dunes, The Red Sea

Set against the dramatic backdrop of desert plains and the Hijaz Mountains, Six Senses Southern Dunes pays homage to Nabataean architectural heritage and its majestic desert surroundings.

The resort offers 36 guest rooms and 40 pool villas, while the spa offers a traditional hammam experience, meditative yoga sessions, and other tailored wellness treatments and.  

From Al-Sarab to Merkaz, Bariya, and beyond, the flavors of Saudi culinary heritage are endless, crafted with ingredients sourced from the chef’s garden or local suppliers.

Guests can also immerse themselves in the gastronomic arts by enrolling in a cooking school to master healthy recipes and techniques.

 


Saudi authorities distribute gifts to departing Hajj pilgrims 

Saudi authorities distribute gifts to departing Hajj pilgrims 
Updated 19 June 2024
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Saudi authorities distribute gifts to departing Hajj pilgrims 

Saudi authorities distribute gifts to departing Hajj pilgrims 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance in the Makkah region is distributing gifts to pilgrims departing the Kingdom after completing Hajj.

The gifts, which include 646,652 copies of the Qur’an and a translation of its meanings, are being distributed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, the Jeddah Islamic Port and Taif International Airport, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

The departing pilgrims thanked the Saudi government for the facilities and services provided to them, saying that the reception and farewell ceremonies are part of the Kingdom’s generosity to pilgrims and visitors.

The annual Hajj pilgrimage, which began on Friday, concluded on Wednesday with more than 2 million Muslims taking part this year.