Middle East and the US are leading in AI adoption, says Palantir CEO

Middle East and the US are leading in AI adoption, says Palantir CEO
The countries adopting AI are in the US and in the MidEast, Alex Karp, CEO and co-founder of Palantir, tells FII Priority Summit. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 February 2024

Middle East and the US are leading in AI adoption, says Palantir CEO

Middle East and the US are leading in AI adoption, says Palantir CEO
  • It is time to throw out the playbook in order to succeed, says Alex Karp

MIAMI: Alex Karp, CEO of data mining and AI-assisted software firm Palantir, believes “that the world will be shaped through the embodiment of ideas and words in software platforms.

“These platforms are so levered that, in fact, they will shape our life in a way that words used to,” he said at the FII Priority Summit in Miami on Friday.

In order to succeed in today’s world, it is essential to think outside the box and outside any playbook — whether that is in finance, hardware, or any other sector, he said.

“What’s super interesting about the AI revolution is that almost none of the playbook rules make sense,” he added.

The countries adopting AI and utilizing it to its full potential are in the US and in the Middle East, Karp continued.

“In hardware, the value is having a community of people who are all very good, and in software, the value is having the one right person.”

It seems like a small difference but it is not; it is largely the reason attempts to build ecosystems like Silicon Valley have failed, “because the people building them are not software natives,” said Karp.

He continued that it is perhaps why countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are “embracing these technologies in a way that I wish other places in West Europe would.”

Armed with a background in social sciences and academia, 20 years ago Karp co-founded Palantir, which received early backing from CIA investment arm In-Q-Tel and does contract work for government agencies like the US Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Danish National Police.

Addressing the balance between privacy and ethics, Karp said that the company’s core intel products deal with privacy issues “by exposing authorities and only authorities to the data they’re allowed to see without seeing the other data that they’re not allowed to see.”

He said: “I’m very pro civil liberties but you have to augment both civil liberties and GDP and they’re not in contradiction.”

It is often “people who are allergic to technical issues (that) are actually the adversaries of the enlightenment, because if your enterprise doesn’t work, your country doesn’t work, and nothing can work,” said Karp.

At a time when the world is riddled with war, and these wars are happening “in very complicated electronic suppressed environments,” one cannot use old hardware anymore, said Karp.

“You have to engage in software war and almost all useful hardware things going forward will be software-enabled or controlled.”

Data ownership and privacy are even more critical amid increasing geopolitical tensions, so “your products have to work in an environment where you can understand your supply chain even as it’s disrupted” and even potentially predict disruptions, he continued.

“Treat your company and all of its latent assets as a portfolio under the condition that the portfolio will be very different tomorrow than it is today.”

Karp sees the future of AI as still undecided.

“This is a place where the innovation ramp is so great that the most important thing really is what do you do in the next 18 months.”

For the US, the testing ground for this technology is currently in the military, he added. 

“What will be decided is, can America and its allies get to a point of decisive dominance and then impose regulation on the rest of the world from that perspective of dominance? That would be the best outcome,” concluded Karp.

Middle East leads recovery rates for international tourist arrivals

Middle East leads recovery rates for international tourist arrivals
Updated 22 May 2024

Middle East leads recovery rates for international tourist arrivals

Middle East leads recovery rates for international tourist arrivals
  • WEF report finds Saudi Arabia showed the most improvement in its ranking score between 2019 and 2024 in the region
  • The UAE, ranking No. 18 globally, is the top performer in the MENA region

DUBAI: International tourist arrivals and the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to global GDP are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, according to the latest World Economic Forum travel and tourism study.

The WEF’s Travel & Tourism Development Index 2024, published once every two years in collaboration with the University of Surrey, analyzes the travel and tourism sectors of 119 countries. TTDI scores and rankings are based on a variety of factors and policies that contribute to the development of a country’s travel and tourism sector, such as sustainability, infrastructure and resources.

The global tourism industry is expected to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and even exceed the levels seen before the outbreak. This growth is driven by a marked increase in the demand for travel, which coincides with countries investing in tourism and cultural attractions as well as better flight availability. 

“This year marks a turning point for the travel and tourism sector, which we know has the capacity to unlock growth and serve communities through economic and social transformation,” said Francisco Betti, head of the Global Industries team at the WEF. 

However, not all countries will recover equally. Although 71 of the 119 ranked economies increased their scores since 2019, the average index score rose just 0.7 percent above pre-pandemic levels.

Despite a promising future, the travel and tourism sector is reeling from the after effects of the pandemic. Labor shortages continue, while other factors like air route capacity and capital investment struggle to keep up with demand. Combined with growing macroeconomic, geopolitical and environmental risks, and worsened by global inflation, these factors drive up prices, making recovery an uphill climb.

The top 10 countries in the TTDI’s 2024 edition are the US, Spain, Japan, France, Australia, Germany, the UK, China, Italy and Switzerland.

The Middle East leads in recovery rates for international tourist arrivals, exceeding 2019 levels by 20 percent, while Europe, Africa and the Americas all showed a strong recovery of around 90 percent in 2023.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia showed the most improvement in its ranking score between 2019 and 2024 rising from 50th place in 2019 to 41st this year.

The report shows “just how much progress Saudi Arabia has made in its travel and tourism sector,” with “significant investment in infrastructure, cultural and natural attractions, and a noticeable increase in welcoming visitors,” Betti told Arab News. 

The UAE, ranking No. 18 globally, is the top performer across the Middle East and North Africa region, climbing seven spots from 25th in 2019, while Egypt (61st) is the top standalone nation in North Africa.

Home to high-income economies, including all the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Middle East is performing better than North Africa due to improved tourist and transport infrastructure, an advanced aviation sector, the presence of large corporations, and high levels of safety and security. 

The North African economies, on the other hand, are still developing and tend to be more price competitive. The report found that economies such as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are often challenged due to issues such as gaps in transport and tourism infrastructure, safety and security concerns, and a less-than-ideal business environment. 

The MENA region saw the second-greatest increase in Air Transport Infrastructure scores, up 8.4 percent, with average air route capacity and airport connectivity being among the greatest regional indicator improvements since the 2021 TTDI edition.

As the region looks to diversify beyond oil and gas, many of its economies have pumped substantial investment and resources into developing the travel and tourism sector. This is evident in the development of cultural and tourist attractions, visa policies, and increased government spending on the sector.

Saudi Arabia, for example, plans to spend around $800 billion on tourism over the next decade with the goal of attracting 150 million tourists a year by 2030, with about 70 million coming from abroad.

Moreover, the Kingdom has attracted $13 billion in private sector investments into the tourism industry and is targeting $85 billion in tourism revenue this year compared to $66 billion in 2023, Bloomberg reported. 

Betti said that in order for Saudi Arabia “to further harness the sector for economic growth, it will need to continue improving its positioning as global tourism destination, and focus on building a sustainable, inclusive, and resilient tourism ecosystem,” which means “multiplying the number of visitors while protecting the environment, supporting both small and large businesses, and training its workforce.”

The effect of these efforts is reflected in the greatest regional average increase in travel and tourism socioeconomic impact scores, which have increased by 13.8 percent from 2019 to 2024. 

Still, the region scores the lowest for socioeconomic impact.

Currently, the MENA region is grappling with issues such as lower female participation in the workforce and the resulting gender gap in the industry; below-average workers’ rights and social protections, which limits the talent pool from joining and flourishing in the industry.

The report suggests that, going forward, regional economies should focus on reducing the concentration of tourism at the most visited destinations and creating a competitive workforce in order to prosper.

Further easing travel and trade restrictions, and investing in environmental sustainability, would also help propel the sector in the region.

In the coming years, the industry will be challenged by “the impact of climate change, geopolitical tensions, macroeconomic uncertainty and the application of new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI),” WEF’s Betti and Iis Tussyadiah, professor and head of the school of hospitality and tourism management at the University of Surrey, said in the report. 

“Within this context, it has become critical for T&T (travel and tourism) decision-makers and stakeholders not just to focus on improving sector readiness for future risks and opportunities, but also to ensure that the sector accounts for its economic, social and environmental impact and is a driver of global prosperity,” they added.


‘Global fracture due to lack of trust between superpowers’: WEF panel discusses investing amid geopolitical shifts 

‘Global fracture due to lack of trust between superpowers’: WEF panel discusses investing amid geopolitical shifts 
Updated 29 April 2024

‘Global fracture due to lack of trust between superpowers’: WEF panel discusses investing amid geopolitical shifts 

‘Global fracture due to lack of trust between superpowers’: WEF panel discusses investing amid geopolitical shifts 
  • Participants emphasized the need for structural reforms to address socioeconomic disparities, and foster trust in global relations

RIYADH: Amid shifting geopolitics and declining foreign direct investment in emerging markets, Saudi businesswoman Lubna Olayan emphasized on Monday the crucial role of trust and transparency for investors, highlighting the need for robust foundations in a deeply interlinked global landscape. 

During a panel discussion on “Investing amid Global Fracture” at the special two-day World Economic Forum meeting in Riyadh, Olayan highlighted the pivotal role of trust in the reshaping of foreign investment strategies due to the emergence of new global players and escalating security concerns. 

“The global fracture stems from a lack of trust between superpowers, which is now escalating to a lack of trust between everyone,” Olayan told the panel.  

The prevailing trend evident in this global fracture, primarily seen in the rivalry between the US and China, is countries prioritizing their own interests without feeling obligated to align with any specific side, she said.  

Emphasizing the critical significance of transparency in global relations, Olayan highlighted the need for the rule of law and the equitable application of laws as fundamental prerequisites for investors.  

Salman Rahman, private industry and investment adviser to the prime minister of Bangladesh, discussed the urgent need for restructuring the global socioeconomic order.  

He pointed to inequalities such as the lack of electricity for 50 per cent of Africa’s population and vaccine disparities exposed during the pandemic.

Rahman’s remarks highlighted the need to address socioeconomic disparities and foster a more equitable global landscape. 

Laurence Fink, chairman and CEO at BlackRock Inc., stressed the importance of cooperation between governments and stakeholders to navigate the deepening divides between major powers.  

He emphasized the critical role of collaborative efforts in addressing the multifaceted challenges of the modern world. 

Standard Chartered Bank aims to boost Saudi-China economic ties with strategic expansion 

Standard Chartered Bank aims to boost Saudi-China economic ties with strategic expansion 
Updated 19 March 2024

Standard Chartered Bank aims to boost Saudi-China economic ties with strategic expansion 

Standard Chartered Bank aims to boost Saudi-China economic ties with strategic expansion 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia offers significant growth potential for foreign banks operating in the Kingdom to meet the increasing demand from Chinese clients, according to a senior banker. 

Speaking to Arab News, Jerry Zhang, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank China, noted that the company is strengthening its infrastructure and services to better support Chinese clientele in Saudi Arabia, indicating confidence in the market’s potential. 

Zhang said: “We are actually hiring a corridor banker. Corridor banker, meaning that a Chinese-speaking local relationship manager is servicing the underlying clients. So, we are hiring additional resources to be stationed in Saudi to serve the Chinese clients here. This is absolutely driven by the demand.”  

She added: “We are also beefing up supporting systems and services capabilities to serve Chinese clients here onshore. That’s a straightforward proof of how we see the potential of this market.” 

Standard Chartered’s banking presence in the region is relatively new, as it commenced operations in Saudi Arabia in 2022. 

However, the corridor between the Middle East and China already contributes 10 percent to the bank’s income and is experiencing rapid growth. 

“Hopefully, in 12-24 months’ time, we will see the share of the Middle East corridor within the entire China origination income grow faster, particularly in Saudi Arabia, and I can claim a large share of that and report it to you,” Zhang said. 

Additionally, the CEO underlined that Saudi Arabia and China align strategically. The Kingdom is actively seeking diversification in its economy, particularly in sectors like infrastructure, new energy, technology, logistics, and e-commerce. These sectors are recognized as key areas where North Asian companies excel. 

“Therefore, I think Chinese companies do have an edge and also an urge to come across to Saudi Arabia to provide their products and services, expanding into this part of the world very fast. In our Standard Chartered’s position, we’ve been consistently transitioning to support the so-called emerging new economy in China for the past eight to 10 years,” Zhang continued. 

The CEO underscored that new economy sectors, such as technology and innovation, have experienced significant growth and now contribute nearly 50 percent of the firm’s corporate income.  

This transition aligns strategically with both countries’ goals and supports Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 by providing services in sectors relevant to its objectives. 

Zhang further elaborated on the development of the Chinese economy, highlighting its 5.2 percent growth rate last year, which is considered strong compared to other major economies.  

She anticipates a 4.8 percent growth rate for 2024, primarily driven by consumption and growth in these rising industries. 

“More than 30 million cars have been produced and sold. For the first time in history, China has exceeded Japan to become the No. 1 exporter of cars worldwide, and for EV (electric vehicle) cars in particular, last year, I think China has produced close to 10 million EVs and more than 30 percent in the penetration ratio,” Zhang said. 

Commenting on the relationship between the North Asian country and Saudi Arabia, Zhang said that Standard Chartered China has engaged with the Kingdom’s leadership team and women entrepreneurs in technology, whom they have sponsored and supported through programming. 

“First, we saw the bilateral relationship really accelerate after President Xi’s visit. By the end of 2022 and during the investment conference, both sides had signed more than 60 agreements worth more than $25 billion in contracts, which is extremely exciting, and things have been moving even faster from there,” Zhang commented. 

She added, “The two central banks have signed a currency swap program worth 50 billion RMB, which will pave a very strong foundation for financial collaboration between the two nations as well... We are seeing this extremely friendly government-to-government relationship that further nurtures the economic ties between the two sides.” 

The bank is enhancing its presence by adding more personnel, introducing new products and solutions, and implementing best practices from its global operations in the Kingdom. 

Mazen Bunyan, CEO of Standard Chartered Saudi Arabia, emphasized that the Kingdom and China share a historic and long-standing relationship. Additionally, both nations have very similar strategies for achieving their economic growth, diversification, and objectives. 

“We have a very unique opportunity and position as a global bank in both markets to leverage on that network, on connectivity. We’re expanding on the market. We’re expanding our operations, and adding people, products and services on the ground, and solutions,” Bunyan told Arab News. 

He added: “At the same time, we continue to engage with key stakeholders on each side, China and Saudi Arabia, to smooth the knowledge gap to help the engagement between the two counterparts or two countries.” 

Bunyan highlighted that the bank has around 50 employees working directly in the Kingdom, the majority of whom are Saudi nationals. Additionally, a significant number of women leaders are present within the organization’s regional workforce. 

“We have also a very huge portion of women leaders within both entities, and we continue to invest in talent in Saudi Arabia and develop them as well in line with the Vision 2030 Human Capital Development Program,” Bunyan said. 

Standard Chartered Bank in Saudi Arabia operates as a full-fledged wholesale organization, focusing on serving government and quasi-government financial institutions as well as large and global companies in the Kingdom. The bank’s objective is to deliver value to these clients and support them in achieving their respective objectives and strategic priorities. 

The financial institution plays a significant role in facilitating inward business into Saudi Arabia, leveraging its extensive global footprint, particularly in regions like China.  

Additionally, Standard Chartered assists international companies in establishing their presence and operations in the Kingdom, serving as a bridge between these companies and the Saudi market. 

Saudi Arabia named ‘most improved country overall’ in US Chamber of Commerce IP Index

Saudi Arabia named ‘most improved country overall’ in US Chamber of Commerce IP Index
Updated 06 March 2024

Saudi Arabia named ‘most improved country overall’ in US Chamber of Commerce IP Index

Saudi Arabia named ‘most improved country overall’ in US Chamber of Commerce IP Index

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has received recognition as “the most improved country overall” in the 12th edition of the US Chamber of Commerce International Intellectual Property Index. 

Released on March 2, the report emphasizes the several achievements of the Kingdom, with Vice President of Middle East Affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce Steve Lutes telling Arab News that Saudi Arabia has made significant strides in the technology sector over the past year.

“Specifically, I think this year the Kingdom did sign on to some important international treaties and they’ve made some other progress on both the enforcement side and some other of the indicators,” Lutes said on the sidelines of the LEAP 2024 conference.

“The Kingdom moving up in ranking gives more confidence to investors,” he added. 

Lutes went on to say that the body aims to encourage partnerships with the business community, government, and academia in Saudi Arabia to drive the establishment of a diversified, knowledge-based economy aligned with Vision 2030.

The US Chamber of Commerce considers over 50 indices when ranking countries, Lutes added. 

“Some of this looks very marginal. But really, when you think about it from an economic perspective, these are very important drivers because these are the sorts of things that companies look at. Is my IP going to be safe? Is it going to be protected? Are rules going to be enforced? And that’s where you get the investment in value and innovation,” said the vice-president.

The Kingdom allocates a total of $2 million across all funding rounds dedicated to artificial intelligence companies and over $3 billion proportional to gross domestic product with a ranking position of 31 in the Global AI index.

“We’ve been looking at this as governments around the globe start to grapple with the regulatory frameworks for artificial intelligence. The Chamber commissioned a report that was largely targeted toward a domestic audience and had some policy recommendations in that,” said Lutes.

A report by the European Centre for International Political Economy and the US Chamber of Commerce, titled “The Opportunity of Artificial Intelligence: Boosting Productivity and Growth in Saudi Arabia,” will be released in March.

The study will include a breakdown covering the benefits of AI for the Kingdom, endowments and digital industry structures, and AI policies going forward. 

“It has some sector-by-sector analysis where we think it can be the most impactful. In my mind, though, the biggest message is for policymakers,” Lutes said, adding: “One of those is investing, for example, in human capital. You have to have the workforce that’s ready to take on these technologies and bring it to government processes, to business processes and see it diffuse. So, when it comes to the sectors, I think, you know, healthcare and education are two that are highlighted in particular as having the most upside.”

Lutes added this is his first time attending LEAP, which is now in its third edition, and the Chamber has been collaborating with the Ministry of Communications and the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence. 

“We are at the LEAP Conference and IP is so fundamental to that. So, kudos to the Kingdom this year. And I guess our message is let’s not rest on our laurels. Let’s continue to work together to see if we can continue to see the Kingdom climb in that index as well,” he concluded. 

LEAP, held in Riyadh from March 4-7, is an annual premier tech event founded in 2022 by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. It convenes leading professionals from the sector to deliberate on the industry’s future and the innovative opportunities ahead.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman College, Saudi Press Agency sign training agreement

Prince Mohammed bin Salman College, Saudi Press Agency sign training agreement
Updated 03 March 2024

Prince Mohammed bin Salman College, Saudi Press Agency sign training agreement

Prince Mohammed bin Salman College, Saudi Press Agency sign training agreement
  • MBSC will train journalists in ‘interpersonal effectiveness skills,’ such as negotiation and presentation

RIYADH: The Prince Mohammed bin Salman College for Management and Entrepreneurship announced on Thursday a new partnership with the Saudi Press Agency to provide specialized training and development programs for the Kingdom’s news industry.

The partnership was co-signed by Zieger DeGreef, dean of MBSC, and Fahad bin Hassan Al-Aqran, president of SPA, during the “Human Capabilities Initiative” conference held in Riyadh on Feb. 28-29.

“We are proud to partner with the Saudi Press Agency,” DeGreef said. “We are proud to partner with a number of very prominent ministries and organizations in the Kingdom to develop business acumen in Saudi Arabia.”

He told Arab News that the partnership will train journalists in a variety of “interpersonal effectiveness skills,” such as teamwork, negotiation, presentation, influencing, decision-making, and communication — all of which “are very relevant for journalists (and) for professionals in the media.”

DeGreef added that although “there is already good education in the Kingdom,” it has “a long way to go in excellence in business education.”

He added: “The college tries to fill that void.”  

In addition to joining media-focused training programs under the agreement, Saudi journalists will also be able to obtain graduate degrees in business administration and finance.

“We will welcome journalists in those degree programs in business, but we are also developing an exciting portfolio of executive education programs again for the media,” DeGreef said. “So, most of our partnerships are already in those two areas, but the third area is research.”

He highlighted that MBSC’s faculty “will work with journalists from SPA on particular research projects, mostly linked to data, data analysis, data presentations, (and) data communication.”

SPA announced on Thursday the launch of its first news training academy in partnership with several organizations, including the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, the Prince Mohammad Bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship, the Institute of Public Administration, the Human Resources Development Fund, Sky News Arabia Academy, and the Austrian International Center for Qualification and Quality.