Experts hail Gulf involvement in groundbreaking AI agreement

Special Experts hail Gulf involvement in groundbreaking AI agreement
Eric Xing spoke to Arab News about how the Middle East can bring different perspectives to the AI debate.
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Updated 10 November 2023

Experts hail Gulf involvement in groundbreaking AI agreement

Experts hail Gulf involvement in groundbreaking AI agreement
  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among 28 signatories to the Bletchley Declaration
  • ‘It’s an important recognition that this region isn’t just a consumer but a contributor to this technology,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: Gulf states’ involvement in last week’s Bletchley Declaration on artificial intelligence is indicative of the region’s maturation into a contributor of technological advancement, experts have told Arab News.

Described as a step toward enhancing cooperation in development and use of modern technologies, 28 parties — including Saudi Arabia and the UAE — signed the declaration during the two-day AI Safety Summit organized by the British government and hosted at the famous country house in London where Allied forces decoded the Nazi enigma machine.

Accession to the declaration comes as interest in AI across the Middle East has been gaining momentum.

Arising out of a desire to develop the region’s own talent pipeline in the field, Mohammed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence was launched as the world’s only dedicated AI institution in 2019.

Welcoming its first students at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, it has been ranked among the top 20 institutions in the field.

Its President Eric Xing said Gulf involvement in the declaration will only further this regional push.

“I was very happy that Middle Eastern countries were invited and involved in this discussion surrounding the most advanced technology the global community is presently involved in,” he told Arab News.

“It’s an important recognition that this region isn’t just a consumer but a contributor to this technology, a fact underscored not only by its economic growth but its advancements in the fields of research and development.

“Furthermore, with AI a product developed by and for people, it’s important to have multiple voices in the room.

“The Middle East can bring different perspectives to the discussion to provide a constructive contribution.”

Eric Xing hailed the Bletchley Declaration.

Central in that discussion will be how to regulate a technology that has many running scared, but with the EU, UK, US and China signing the document, it is hoped that its calls for collaboration, accountability and transparency will be go some way to reducing such concerns.

While some question the agreement’s practical benefits, Brijesh Singh, senior business application programing consultant at Wipro, a leading Big Tech company, said “intent is crucial.”

He concurred with Xing that the declaration marks an essential first step toward the ultimate aim of a unified “global policy” on AI regulation.

“This agreement sets the tone and sends a clear message to AI technology developers and users,” Singh told Arab News.

“While most countries have their own method and approach to AI governance and regulation, through the Bletchley Declaration they’re communicating to the world of AI technologists their intent to formulate a global framework of responsible AI and associated governance.”

Acknowledging tensions between the US and China, Singh nonetheless said there has been a continued exchange of ideas and business between the two predominant world powers.

Believing they will continue this collaboration on such a “life-altering paradigm” as AI, he added that the Gulf countries, as neutral parties, could have a significant role to play in shaping discussions “into actionable methodologies.”

Gulf countries are at the “forefront in the global economy, providing leading chemical, energy, industrial and supply chain solutions,” Singh said.

“These domains are ripe to get significantly transformed, applying tools from the AI spectrum, particularly with the adoption of generative AI-enabled foundation models. This will have a significant impact at economic, environmental, individual and social levels.”

Given such a widespread impact across these different domains of Gulf life, Singh did not deny that it would be anything but “onerous” for these signatories to “lead from the front” when it comes to the adequate development, usage and governance of AI technologies.

Nonetheless, he said with its geocentric locale and advanced economic status, the Gulf would have to accept the responsibility of being at the “forefront.”

Those obligations, though, also bring benefits, with Xing confident that the declaration will be a positive force on Gulf development.

Noting that unlike other technologies, AI boasts a “very big open-source community that is as active, if not even more active, than the private sector,” it is a field already used to the levels of collaboration now being sought by governmental authorities, he said.

Together with existing infrastructure that Gulf states have built to foster AI growth, Xing said the declaration underscores the region’s role as a “unified force of innovation.”

He warned against what he sees as a tendency toward the “sensational” regarding the threat posed by AI, which he said reflects a history of anxiety around the emergence of new technologies.

“AI is yet another wave of innovation, but one in computing and software engineering,” Xing added. “It’s a software running inside a computer and the virtual world rather than the physical world, and I’d argue that this makes it safer.

“The chance of leakage in the physical world is far higher, and there are more checkpoints that AI has to pass through before it can exit the virtual world and enter the physical one. This makes AI very different from some of the breakthroughs in physical science.

“This isn’t to say AI is risk-free, but … regulation can be more effective in checking the spread of harmful effects. What I really want to ensure is that the anxiety and fear associated with it isn’t overplayed.”

Of AI in its present form, Xing said there are myriad ways it can and has been abused, but the level of harm it currently presents is “manageable” and has not surpassed a threshold necessitating the imposition of severe restrictions or even the “shutting down” of research.

Agreeing with Xing that the threat from AI may be overhyped, Singh said it has to be kept in mind that there is a lack of consensus on how far the technology can develop.

The issue of sentience remains disputed, with the “jury still out” on a potential evolution of AI consciousness, Singh added.

“For the foreseeable future, AI will increasingly improve in terms of its ability to assist humans with cognitive tasks, adding tremendous value (read productivity) to our operating lives, which is valuable for society as it allows us to optimize our efforts in the true areas of our interests and live our lives the way we really desire to,” he said.

“But for us to be able to develop and use AI’s capabilities positively, we require governance to avoid pitfalls and misuse.

“Hence, the Bletchley Declaration is the right attempt in preventing the unintended and negative consequences of AI.

“These countries coming together indicates the recognition of the need for consensus for tighter regulation.” 

BNPL firm Jeel Pay receives SAMA permit, boosting Saudi fintech

BNPL firm Jeel Pay receives SAMA permit, boosting Saudi fintech
Updated 10 December 2023

BNPL firm Jeel Pay receives SAMA permit, boosting Saudi fintech

BNPL firm Jeel Pay receives SAMA permit, boosting Saudi fintech

RIYADH: Saudi fintech startup Jeel Pay has obtained a permit from the Saudi Central Bank to provide buy-now-pay-later solutions.  

Jeel Pay is a fintech firm that created a solution to streamline the payment and collection procedures within educational institutions.

This decision by SAMA brings the total number of companies authorized to practice BNPL activity in the Kingdom to seven, according to a statement. 

It also increases the number of licensed and authorized financing companies to 58, reflecting SAMA’s ongoing endeavor to support post-paid companies.

In alignment with Vision 2030 goals outlined in the National Fintech Strategy, the Kingdom aims to have 525 such companies, which will create 18,000 jobs and generate SR13.3 billion ($3.56 billion) in direct gross domestic product contributions.    

To achieve these objectives, SAMA is focused on fostering innovation within the financial sector and enhancing inclusion and accessibility across the Kingdom.  

In October, Saudi fintech startup KadiPay obtained a permit from SAMA to provide BNPL solutions.

In late July, the bank granted the same permit to another BNPL platform known as Tabby. 

In early July, amid efforts to affirm its commitment to supporting the fintech sector, the Saudi Central Bank granted BNPL platform Tamara a permit to pursue post-paid payment activity.

A permit was also given to MIS Forward in March to implement a BNPL solution, allowing customers to purchase from merchants without paying term-financing fees.

Also in March, Saudi Venture Capital announced its intent to boost this sector further by dedicating $80 million to its “Investment in Fintech VC Fund” in hopes of stimulating financing for startups and small and medium enterprises.  

This strategic decision to invest in the flourishing fintech scene is expected to further develop the ecosystem, which raised $239 million in funding in 2022, according to venture data firm MAGNiTT.

Speaking to Arab News in July 2022, SAMA’s Deputy Governor for Development and Technology Ziad Al-Yousef said that the bank is planning to make Saudi Arabia a regional financial technology hub as part of its strategy to implement the Financial Sector Development Program envisaged in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 blueprint.   

He added at the time that the central bank is developing regulations to address new business models to assist and guide entrepreneurs in the payments, investments and financing sector. 

Rich nations, GCC urged to use SDRs to fund climate action in Africa

Rich nations, GCC urged to use SDRs to fund climate action in Africa
Updated 10 December 2023

Rich nations, GCC urged to use SDRs to fund climate action in Africa

Rich nations, GCC urged to use SDRs to fund climate action in Africa

DUBAI: Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have been called upon to seize the global leadership in innovative climate finance through their unused special drawing rights with the International Monetary Fund to help generate additional lending under climate finance for African economies.

“We are having conversations with various countries that have SDRs that are not used because, frankly, they don’t need them. And so this is a real opportunity for leadership by the really forward-looking, innovative leaders in the Gulf and elsewhere. So, we had a very productive conversation that we helped organize with the COP28 presidency, France, Japan, the African Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank on Finance Day at COP28. And I think there was real momentum in the room. Japan had a very forward-leaning statement and France also had a very strong statement,’’ Eric Pelofsky, vice president, Global Economic Recovery, at the Rockefeller Foundation, told Arab News.

In August 2021, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IMF issued a historic $650 billion in SDRs in order to help countries around the world with the necessary cushion to weather the storm. As these SDRs were issued on the economic size and existing reserves, some of the richest countries got the most of the SDRs, while leaving all of Africa with barely 5 percent or $33 billion in SDRs.

As a result, most of these SDRs have remained unused by the rich nations. Over the past few months, there have been calls by various civil society organizations and finance experts for the rich countries to repurpose or pledge their SDRs to allow poorer nations to raise much-needed funds for themselves. Though the rich nations agreed to pledge $100 billion worth of their SDRs for climate finance for Africa, there still remains a shortfall of $15 billion. 

This is where the GCC leaders can step in, say the experts as their own unused SDRs can be leveraged to raise the much-needed funds for the African nations as well as other vulnerable countries. This is an area where the Rockefeller Foundation has been working intensively, most notably the climate change meeting, known as COP28, that is currently going on in Dubai.

Enthused by the outcome of the Finance Day discussions, Pelofsky said that he would continue to push the issue at the forefront in order to rope in more countries that have surplus SDRs that they don’t need.

“We think that it has generated some real momentum and we are continuing these conversations. I think we will see a lot more progress after the IMF publicly announces a board decision, which may happen by January, which would add hybrid capital to a list of approved uses of SDRs. And after that happens, we are going to see more countries come forward with their SDRs,” the executive added.

Civil society organizations and experts have set a target to raise$5 billion worth of SDRs for this purpose, which in turn could be leveraged to raise $20 billion worth of additional funding for climate finance. 

“I think it is a real opportunity to show leadership both from an innovative finance standpoint and it’s also an opportunity to show leadership globally because it signals that not only does the Gulf (countries) care about Africa, but it is also committed to its economic success,’’ added Pelosky, who has in the past served as a special assistant to the president of US for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council.

Besides leveraging unused SDRs, another way in which the Rockefeller Foundation and especially Pelofsky and his team have tried to raise funds for climate finance is by looking at the capital adequacy norms followed by the multilateral development banks, notably the World Bank, following a report by a G20 committee which found that the MDBs were being far too conservative in their capital adequacy frameworks and that there was much more lending that could be done using their existing funds.

Pelofsky said that after this report was published, the Rockefeller Foundation commissioned a study by a London-based financial risks analysis firm which determined there was adequate headroom for an additional lending of close to $190 billion by the World Bank alone.

“So you’re talking about roughly $190 billion of additional headroom in the World Bank alone that could help drive development and climate resilience in countries that get money from the World Bank. And so from our standpoint that is a huge opportunity to start to change the trajectory of these countries which are facing debt crisis, food crisis, fuel crisis, and interest rate crisis. So we have been talking to lots of leaders around the world about this study and how one could actually go about implementing,” Pelofsky added.


UAE to launch the EV charging stations company

UAE to launch the EV charging stations company
Updated 10 December 2023

UAE to launch the EV charging stations company

UAE to launch the EV charging stations company

RIYADH: The UAE is set to launch the establishment of the Emirates Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Co. as part of 10 newly approved initiatives, according to the country’ prime minister. 

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who is also the ruler of Dubai, presided over a Cabinet meeting at the Dubai Expo, coinciding with the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference.

He stated that the Cabinet approved 10 new initiatives to achieve the country’s recently established environmental targets.  

These include the adoption of the general framework for the 2031 Biodiversity Strategy, aimed at monitoring and protecting natural systems, ensuring their sustainability, and enhancing the national workforce’s proficiency in this field.

The initiatives also encompassed a global appeal for carbon removal from the waste sector. Sheikh Mohammed highlighted the launch of a national carbon credit registry, enabling government and private entities to assess and document their contributions to carbon emission reduction with authenticated government certificates. 

Moreover, the Cabinet approved the fifth national report, documenting the success of national efforts to reduce carbon emissions across various sectors. 

They also endorsed the first edition of the country’s long-term low-carbon development strategy and the establishment of the Emirates Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Co.

In addition, the UAE introduced a policy for sustainable aviation fuel and smart construction in the country.  

The prime minister emphasized that the UAE continues to earnestly work on sustainability and climate change, considering it a fundamental and consistent element in its comprehensive and ongoing development journey. 

He stated: “We reviewed the national efforts of the country in the environmental field, which included more than 120 decisions in sustainability, climate change, and the development of our natural resources issued by the council over the past five years.”

Adding: “In 2023 alone, we launched more than 60 new decisions, forming an integrated system of policies, legislation, strategies, and initiatives to enhance the country’s efforts and profile in addressing the world’s participation in mitigating the effects of climate change.”

The country achieved a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2019 to 2021 and secured the top regional position in the 2022 Environmental Performance Index, jumping 38 positions globally compared to 2018. 

Sheikh Mohammed highlighted that the UAE secured the second position globally in the Energy Transition category of the 2023 Global Green Future Index.

According to him, the UAE has invested over $50 billion in clean energy projects across 70 countries and pledged another $50 billion in the sector over the next decade.



Saudi Arabia, China to jointly promote key initiatives 

Saudi Arabia, China to jointly promote key initiatives 
Updated 10 December 2023

Saudi Arabia, China to jointly promote key initiatives 

Saudi Arabia, China to jointly promote key initiatives 

RIYADH: Key initiatives in Saudi Arabia and China will soon be exposed to extensive promotional efforts thanks to the close partnership between the two countries, according to the Asian country’s commerce minister. 

Wang Wentao disclosed that both sides will work hand in hand to jointly stimulate China’s Belt and Road Initiative as well as the Kingdom’s Saudi Vision 2030, Reuters reported.

This announcement comes following Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih’s meeting with China’s commerce and industry chiefs in Beijing on Sunday to discuss boosting collaboration in trade, investment, and technology. 

The officials also tackled the potential of expanding cooperation in energy, resources, infrastructure, and technology.

This falls in line with the diplomatic ties between the two countries, which span over 30 years, and China is currently the Kingdom’s largest trading partner. 

It also aligns well with how bilateral trade and investment have grown significantly between both sides in recent years. 

During his visit, Al-Falih also met with Zhang Hu, the vice governor of Guangdong province. They both participated in a workshop as part of the Invest in Saudi Arabia tour in China, according to a post on X, formerly Twitter.   

“I also met a number of executives from leading Chinese companies in the manufacture of cars, electric batteries, and information technology, where we focused on developing Saudi-Chinese investments,” Al-Falih said in the post. 

Saudi Arabia and China are working together to strengthen their already well-established strategic ties. 

In September, the Kingdom’s minister of industry and mineral resources held meetings with key Chinese officials in Beijing. The minister also toured various companies and factories located in different Chinese cities as part of his trip.

Bandar Alkhorayef held talks with China’s Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen, during which they discussed ways to boost economic collaboration and trade ties, the Saudi Press Agency reported at the time. 

The top officials also discussed investment opportunities in several economic sectors, including mining. At the time, the Saudi minister highlighted Saudi Arabia’s progress in the field of industries and mining. 

He also briefed his Chinese counterpart about the existing opportunities in various sectors within the Kingdom. 

Jazan City completes 53 key projects valued at $2.39bn

Jazan City completes 53 key projects valued at $2.39bn
Updated 10 December 2023

Jazan City completes 53 key projects valued at $2.39bn

Jazan City completes 53 key projects valued at $2.39bn

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Jazan City for Basic and Transformative Industries has completed 53 capital projects exceeding SR9 billion ($2.39 billion), revealed Saudi Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef. 

During the city’s projects award ceremony RAWAS, he highlighted that these projects span across multiple sectors, aiming to enhance the city’s investment opportunities. 

The minister stated that 24 projects have been established in the fields of infrastructure and roads, 18 in public facilities and housing, and 11 projects for other services. 

Furthermore, private sector investments in Jazan City have surpassed SR32 billion, with ongoing discussions about future projects estimated to be valued at around SR10 billion, added Alkhorayef. 

“The inauguration of these projects completes the ongoing projects in Jazan City for Basic and Transformational Industries, falling under the initiative to develop the basic facilities for industrial areas in the city, such as the seawater cooling system project costing over SR1.2 billion, and the project to establish a 1,000-megawatt power station in the industrial area, costing over SR400 million,” the minister said.  

He added that key projects enhancing the special economic zone include constructing a security wall, gates, and infrastructure, with investments exceeding SR1 billion.   

Furthermore, Jazan City is poised to launch a series of capital projects. This includes the second phase of developing the general industrial area, projected at SR350 million, and phase two of the maritime area’s infrastructure. The latter is aimed at bolstering investments in residential spaces and improving living standards, estimated at SR400 million. 

“Jazan City for Basic and Transformational Industries has aligned its projects with several national strategies, including the National Industrial Strategy launched last year, incorporating several future capital projects within this strategy’s initiatives, such as the ready-made buildings for food industries — phase one, estimated to cost approximately SR420 million,” he added.  

In the context of partnerships, Alkhorayef emphasized the impactful returns on government investments in capital projects.  

He noted that each riyal invested yields an impressive eightfold return from the private sector. 

This substantial financial gain not only underscores the economic viability of these projects but also paves the way for more investment opportunities, thereby fostering the region’s economic and industrial growth.