Saudi Arabia’s AI adoption ignites technological advancement and economic growth

Special Saudi Arabia’s AI adoption ignites technological advancement and economic growth
Abdullah Al-Swaha, Saudi minister of communications and IT. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s AI adoption ignites technological advancement and economic growth

Saudi Arabia’s AI adoption ignites technological advancement and economic growth
  • Adoption of AI will help foster a knowledge-based economy and equip Saudi youth with skills for the digital age
  • Key initiatives, include the National Strategy for Data and AI, aim to establish Saudi Arabia as a global AI leader by 2030

RIYADH: As artificial intelligence gains global attention and becomes a buzzword, Saudi Arabia is positioned for accelerated adoption to enhance efficiency across its industries.

Over the years, AI has evolved into a transformative technology revolutionizing numerous industries and domains. Its development and adoption across sectors have spurred significant advancements, already reshaping how people live and work globally.

According to a recent report by the professional services firm PwC, the projected economic impact of AI in the Middle East by 2030 is $320 billion, with an estimated $135.2 billion attributed to Saudi Arabia.

The report also highlights an annual growth rate in AI contribution ranging between 20 percent and 34 percent across the region, with the UAE experiencing the fastest growth, followed by Saudi Arabia.

“Such growth and demand for AI demonstrated that the impact on industries can be substantial and wide-ranging both in Saudi Arabia and the wider region,” said Slava Bogdan, CEO & co-founder at Flowwow, to Arab News.

Flowwow, a global gifting marketplace, simplifies gift-giving and connects local brands with customers. It hosts over 14,000 local brands from 1,000 cities and operates in over 30 countries, including the UAE, Spain, the UK, and Brazil.

“Whether it’s hospitality, manufacturing, telecommunication, or business technologies, where Flowwow sits, I could say that AI solutions, firstly, could automate repetitive tasks, allowing employees to focus on more strategic and creative work, especially in data analysis, customer service, and marketing,” Bogdan said.

The CEO further explained how the firm’s marketers frequently utilize AI to target audiences, enhance creatives, or conduct competitive analysis, particularly in global markets like the Middle East and North Africa. This reduces decision-making time and allows for more strategic tasks that necessitate a tailored approach.

“Moreover, AI algorithms can analyze large amounts of data to identify patterns and trends, helping businesses make more informed decisions,” Bogdan explained.

“This attribute can lead to better forecasting, resource allocation, and risk management, especially in the financial sector, having had 25 percent of all regional AI investments,” he added.

Speaking to Arab News, Brahim Laaidi, partner at Bain & Co., emphasized that AI adoption in sectors like energy and healthcare aids “the Kingdom’s economic diversification and fosters a knowledge-based economy, enhancing efficiency and driving growth.”

Moreover, AI is recognized for enhancing customer experience and reducing costs for firms in various ways.

DID YOU KNOW?

• Saudi Arabia was one of the first nations to utilize data and artificial intelligence technologies to achieve its Vision 2030 goals.

• There are five prominent types of AI: machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision, speech recognition and robots.

• The Saudi Data and AI Authority has created AI ethics principles in accordance with the Kingdom’s commitment to human rights.

• SDAIA estimates SR412.5 billion ($109.96 billion) in global spending on AI by 2024 end.

“AI chatbots and virtual assistants provide 24/7 customer support, reducing costs. Multiple Saudi firms and banks use chatbots for customer service,” highlighted Laaidi.

He also illustrated how AI analyzes customer behavior to create personalized experiences, citing examples like Netflix and Spotify, which utilize AI to tailor content based on user preferences and listening habits.

Laaidi also highlighted how “AI facilitates segmentation based on behavior and profitability for targeted marketing. Coca-Cola utilizes AI for consumer segmentation.”

“In a nutshell, for most enterprises, the focus remains on leveraging narrow or vertical AI solutions to enhance specific business processes, improve customer experiences, or optimize operations,” he added.

According to Jad Haddad, head of Digital IMEA at management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, AI essentially democratizes access to intelligence, making it cheaper and more widely available.

This can generate significant efficiencies by augmenting employee capabilities, enabling them to complete tasks faster, and automating certain processes without human intervention.

Oliver Wyman estimates that up to 35 percent of tasks globally may be augmented or automated by AI in the next three years.

“In Saudi Arabia, considering the current economic structure, Oliver Wyman estimates that up to 17 percent of tasks may be affected within that time frame,” Haddad told Arab News.

AI projects and employment

It is evident that the Kingdom has been significantly investing in AI in recent years.

Key initiatives, according to Laaidi, include the National Strategy for Data and AI, aiming to establish Saudi Arabia as a global AI leader by 2030. Additionally, Neom, a planned smart city, is poised to leverage AI in urban planning and environmental management.

“The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority was established in 2020 to regulate AI development, and Tonomous collaborates with global tech leaders to enhance the city’s projects,” he added.

Laaidi continued by stating that AI and Robotics Centers, formed through partnerships with universities and international entities, are advancing AI in the Kingdom. From a technology industry perspective, it offers diverse applications and significant benefits.

According to Cristina Carranza, global head of business development at GGTech Entertainment, AI stands as a powerful tool with vast potential to enhance operational efficiency across various domains.

“We use AI selectively, focusing on specific areas where it can augment human skills and improve processes,” Carranza told Arab News.

She gives examples of how AI algorithms are utilized to analyze player data and preferences, enabling them to tailor game experiences and enhance player engagement. “In addition, AI-driven predictive analytics help us anticipate market trends and make informed decisions.”

However, Carranza emphasized the importance of acknowledging that while AI is embraced as a tool for progress, there is a recognition of the necessity of human oversight and control.

“We believe in a symbiotic relationship between humans and AI, where the technology enhances our capabilities but is always subject to human direction and control,” she added,

New dimensions

From GGTech Entertainment’s perspective, AI opens up exciting new dimensions in gaming and entertainment.

Carranza revealed that one significant area involves the optimization of game design processes, where AI algorithms analyze player feedback and behavior data to inform the creation of more engaging and immersive gaming experiences.

“Additionally, AI-powered tools enhance player interaction through personalized recommendations and real-time assistance, fostering deeper engagement and loyalty,” she explained.

The global head further addressed how AI-driven analytics offer valuable insights into player behavior and market trends, empowering GGTech to make data-driven decisions and maintain a competitive edge in the industry.

Bridging skill gaps

The Kingdom’s journey to become an AI leader involves challenges encompassing ethical and legal aspects, data availability and quality, as well as skill gaps, infrastructure requirements, public trust, and the need for international collaborations.

“To navigate these dilemmas, the SDAIA and the National Data Management Office have been established to construct ethical guidelines and improve data governance,” Laaidi explained.

Similarly, the National Cybersecurity Authority continues to safeguard Saudi Arabia's digital infrastructure, including AI systems.

Laaidi emphasized Saudi Arabia’s prioritization of STEM education and training to bridge skill gaps, citing initiatives like the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Cyber Security aimed at fostering local talent in AI-related fields.

He highlighted the importance of focusing on STEM disciplines for developing a workforce equipped with the necessary skills for an AI-driven future.

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“Substantial investments are being made in infrastructure, with emphasis on high-performance computing and cloud computing capabilities to support AI development and deployment. Building public trust is also a key venture for the Kingdom,” the partner stressed.

In addition, the Kingdom seeks international collaborations with leading AI research entities worldwide to expedite AI capabilities. “By addressing these challenges strategically, Saudi Arabia aims to create a conducive environment for AI development and adoption,” he emphasized.

From a technological perspective, the adoption of AI can present challenges in navigating ethical considerations and ensuring human control.

“At GGTech, we recognize the importance of maintaining human oversight and ethical standards while leveraging AI technologies. To address this challenge, we prioritize transparency and accountability in our AI algorithms and processes, ensuring they are aligned with our values and ethical guidelines,” Carranza described.

She further added that they invest in ongoing training and education for team members to enhance their understanding of AI and its implications, enabling them to make informed decisions and mitigate potential risks.

Reskilling Saudi workforce    

Undoubtedly, marketers and creative leaders should prepare for the changes in their professional field resulting from AI adoption.

Bogdan explained that one of the crucial skills is the ability to ask AI the right questions and write clear prompts. He emphasized that it is necessary to understand, at least at a basic level, how AI algorithms work.

“At Flowwow, we acquaint employees with the different instruments to make AI a helpful assistant that allows us to analyze competitors’ websites, fact-check and edit texts, test tasks, and answers,” he continued.

The CEO highlighted that as the Kingdom invests resources to integrate AI into every sector, it creates more opportunities for entrepreneurs to establish their businesses and startups equipped with AI tools.

“Hence, apps and services developed with AI solutions will be on the edge. In this case, product managers and programmers should gain a thorough understanding of machine learning to create up-to-date apps,” Bogdan highlighted.

The CEO stressed that it will mostly be up to companies to invest in continuous learning and upskilling through educational short courses for their workers. “This investment is crucial to ensure that the workforce remains competitive and competent in leveraging advancements in AI effectively.”

Saudi Vision 2030  

AI is a driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, fueling economic diversification, smart cities, and public service transformation.

According to Laaidi, “AI boosts innovation across non-oil sectors, enables intelligent urban planning in projects like NEOM, and promotes Industry 4.0 through automation and predictive maintenance.”

“AI also improves government services via chatbots, automation, and analytics. In healthcare, AI enhances medical imaging, drug discovery, and personalized medicine,” he highlighted.

On top of that, Laaidi emphasized how AI educational tools prepare the workforce and optimize resource allocation, while support for clean energy promotes sustainability.

“Vision 2030 powered by AI seamlessly connects economic domains, accelerating progress and innovation across the Kingdom,” he affirmed.

On another note, GGTech Entertainment's use of AI aligns with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 by driving innovation, promoting economic diversification, and empowering Saudi youth with advanced skills and capabilities, according to the firm's global head.

“One way AI contributes to this vision is by enhancing gaming experiences and promoting the Kingdom as a global hub for entertainment and technology,” said Carranza.

By utilizing AI-powered tools for game design, player interaction, and analytics, GGTech Entertainment is delivering cutting-edge gaming experiences that showcase Saudi Arabia’s technological prowess and creativity to a global audience, she emphasized.

“In addition, the use of AI creates opportunities for job creation and economic growth in the Kingdom. As GGTech expands its AI capabilities, it is investing in the development of a skilled workforce with expertise in AI technologies and data analytics,” the company’s global head said.

She concluded by highlighting how this not only aligns with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 to foster a knowledge-based economy but also equips Saudi youth with the skills they need to thrive in the digital age.


EU states give final endorsement to AI rules

EU states give final endorsement to AI rules
Updated 21 May 2024
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EU states give final endorsement to AI rules

EU states give final endorsement to AI rules
  • The EU says the law will protect citizens from AI’s dangers while harnessing the technology’s potential in Europe

RIYADH: EU states on Tuesday gave their final backing to landmark rules on artificial intelligence that will govern powerful systems like OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

The European Parliament had already approved the law in March and it will now enter into force after being published in the official EU journal in the coming days.

The EU says the law will protect citizens from AI’s dangers while harnessing the technology’s potential in Europe.

First proposed in 2021, the rules took on greater urgency after ChatGPT arrived in 2022, showing generative AI’s human-like ability to produce eloquent text within seconds.

Other examples of generative AI include Dall-E and Midjourney, which can produce images in nearly any style with a simple input in everyday language. The law known as the “AI Act” takes a risk-based approach: if a system is high-risk, a company has a tougher set of obligations to fulfill to protect citizens’ rights.

There are strict bans on using AI for predictive policing and systems that use biometric information to infer an individual’s race, religion or sexual orientation. Companies will have to comply by 2026 but rules covering AI models like ChatGPT will apply 12 months after the law becomes official.

Pledge

The world’s leading companies pledged at the start of a mini summit on AI to develop the technology safely, including pulling the plug if they can’t rein in the most extreme risks.

World leaders are expected to hammer out further agreements on artificial intelligence as they gathered virtually to discuss AI’s potential risks but also ways to promote its benefits and innovation.

The AI Seoul Summit is a low-key follow-up to November’s high-profile AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park in the UK, where participating countries agreed to work together to contain the potentially “catastrophic” risks posed by breakneck advances in AI.

The two-day meeting — co-hosted by South Korea and the UK — also comes as major tech companies like Meta, OpenAI and Google roll out the latest versions of their AI models.

They’re among 16 AI companies that made voluntary commitments to AI safety as the talks got underway, according to a British government announcement. 

The companies, which also include Amazon, Microsoft, France’s Mistral AI, China’s Zhipu.ai, and G42 of the UAE, vowed to ensure safety of their most cutting edge AI models with promises of accountable governance and public transparency.

The pledge includes publishing safety frameworks setting out how they will measure risks of these models.


Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official

Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official
Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official

Saudi Arabia is a model of sustainable aviation practices: ICAO official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is a “model” for sustainable practices in the aviation section, said president of the International Civil Aviation Organization Council.

In an interview with Arab News during the Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh, Salvatore Sciacchitano emphasized the Kingdom’s position as an emerging leader in sustainable aviation. 

Speaking about the global agenda to reduce carbon emissions, Sciacchitano said: “Saudi Arabia is in this sense a model because their plan of development is in the perspective of sustainability. This is very positive.” 

“They have projects for low-carbon emission fuels. That means fossil fuels but to produce reduced emissions thanks to green energy that is used for the production. So this is a good direction,” he added.  

The ICAO official highlighted the importance of adhering to international standards and practices, saying that Saudi Arabia’s aviation growth aligns with global standards.  

He stated: “The regulations are there, we call SARPs, standards and recommended practices, these are applicable all over the world to all 193 (member) states of ICAO.” 

Highlighting the role of the Kingdom’s General Authority of Civil Aviation, Sciacchitano praised the support of the authority to the Regional Safety Oversight Organization, which is a way to put resources together at the regional level. 

“Let me say that the GACA is well advanced in terms of programs, projects, training, and also providing support at (the) regional level,” he said. 

“In this sense, Saudi Arabia is well prepared, not just to support its own development, but also to support the development of the region,” he added. 

Sciacchitano said ICAO is there to support its member states. Although he believes that the Kingdom is fully capable of achieving its goals independently. “We absolutely support them with our expertise,” he added. 

Sciacchitano predicted a significant increase in global air traffic, with the number of passengers expected to reach 11.5 billion by 2050, up from the current 4.6 billion.  

He emphasized the need for technological advancements to accommodate this growth, stating that technologies will allow the world to accommodate more airplanes in the air and more space on the ground. 


Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum

Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum
Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum

Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply deal between Aramco, GO Petroleum

KARACHI: The Competition Commission of Pakistan has granted a time-bound exemption on relevant clauses of a product supply agreement between Saudi oil giant Aramco and Gas & Oil Pakistan Ltd.,  known as GO Petroleum, for the import and sale of petrol and diesel products to Pakistan, the CCP said on Tuesday.

Aramco Trading Co. Fujairah FZE Ltd. is one of the world’s largest integrated energy and chemicals companies, while GO Petroleum is an oil-marketing company registered in Pakistan that operates a network of retail outlets across the country that sell petrol, diesel and lubricants.

Under the agreement, ATC Fujairah intends to meet GO Petroleum’s demand for essential petroleum products for its outlets, which primarily includes petrol and diesel.

“The parties submitted to the CCP that this arrangement is expected to achieve economies of scale in procurement for GO Petroleum, potentially resulting in better prices for Pakistani consumers,” the CCP said in a statement.

“The exemption sought was on exclusivity aspects of the commercial agreement to supply 100 percent demand of imported products for GO Petroleum’s retail outlets. The CCP has accordingly granted exemption on the product supply agreement with certain conditions included therein.”

The CCP grants exemptions pursuant to Section 9 of the Competition Act, 2010, ensuring that such exemptions have economic benefits that outweigh anti-competitive effects.

“The CCP’s conditions stipulate that both parties must refrain from engaging in anti-competitive activities. Importantly, the exemption does not include approval on any pricing terms and mechanisms related to the products,” the CCP statement read.

“Additionally, as the agreement has referred to certain off specification products, however approval of concerned sector regulator should be ensured for import and sales. The applicants have also been directed to ensure required approvals on their terminals and storage facilities by relevant authorities to be used in the execution of this agreement.”

Subject to the conditions, the CCP said, it had granted the exemption until June 2026 and both applicants could approach it for an extension with required details and also identifying the benefits that have accrued to the improved distribution network of petroleum products and enhanced competition in the market.

Last month, the CCP approved Saudi oil giant Aramco’s move to acquire a 40 percent stake in Go Petroleum, officially marking the Saudi company’s entry into Pakistan’s fuels retail market.

The CCP said it had authorized the merger after determining the acquisition would not result in the acquirers’ “dominance” in the relevant market post-transaction. The acquisition would help bring much-needed foreign direct investment in Pakistan’s energy sector, contributing to economic growth and development of the country, it added.

In February 2019, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia inked investment deals totaling $21 billion during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad. The agreements included about $10 billion for an Aramco oil refinery and $1 billion for a petrochemical complex at the strategic Gwadar Port in Balochistan.

Both countries have lately been working to increase bilateral trade and investment, and the Kingdom recently reaffirmed its commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion.


Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official
Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

Saudi Arabia to reveal new innovative tourism strategy in 2024: top official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is set to unveil a new tourism strategy this year utilizing artificial intelligence and seamless technology, according to a top official.

Speaking to Arab News in an interview on the sidelines of the Future Aviation Forum 2024, Gloria Guevara Manzo, chief special adviser at the Ministry of Tourism, noted that the plan seeks to maximize the Kingdom’s assets including culture, history, heritage and hospitality.

“Right now, the ministry, under the leadership of his excellency, is developing the new strategy, and that new strategy is going to include several new things, such as the use of AI, for instance, seamless and many other technologies that are important for growth,” Manzo said.

She added: “(The) strategy, hopefully is going to be released this year and is going to be shared with the world. The strategy that we have right now was developed in 2019. We accomplished the milestone of the 100 million tourists, domestic and international, seven years ahead (of schedule).”

Manzo also discussed the importance of sustainability so people are still “enjoying” the world today while ensuring resources are preserved for future use

This concept involves multiple facets, including economic, environmental, and social considerations.

“For 30 years, we have been measuring and that’s why we know that 10 percent of the global gross domestic product before the pandemic (came from travel and tourism), and we’re going to reach that number this year again,” Manzo said.

She added that before the COVID-19 outbreak there were 330 million jobs in the industry, adding: “This year, we’re hoping to break a record with 348 million. One out of 10 jobs depends on this sector, so the economic aspect is very clear. The social aspect also is quite interesting — 54 percent women, 30 percent youth.”

Manzo emphasized the positive social impacts of travel and tourism, such as poverty reduction and the prevention of illegal migration by providing local job opportunities.

Despite these benefits, there had been a lack of clear measurement regarding the sustainability of this industry.

However, a significant study sponsored by Saudi Arabia, particularly by Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb and the ministry, addressed this gap.

Released last year, this provided comprehensive insights into the environmental impact of travel and tourism, revealing that 8.1 percent of greenhouse emissions are attributable to this sector.

“Now that we know that, then we can go industry by industry to understand what is the impact, and from that 8 percent, 47 percent is due to transportation and it could be aviation, it can be road, it can be cruising all the different aspects,” she said.

Manzo added: “Now, the reality is that aviation counts between 1.5 and 2 percent of the global emissions. But as I said in the panel, we cannot see this in an isolated approach. We need to see this from a holistic point of view. We need to understand what are the quick wins.”

Therefore, she noted that this does not mean stopping flying is the solution, as it has “very severe consequences.”

She said: “Millions of people can lose their jobs. We saw that during the pandemic, travel provides food on the table to millions of people from around the world. That’s a factor that we have to consider.” 

Mazo stated that the right approach should be finding ways to travel in a more sustainable way, as she referred to a statement by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman ,when he said that the Kingdom is leading this transition.

Furthermore, the adviser stressed the importance of the Future Aviation Forum as it reflects the significance of connectivity within and outside the Kingdom as emphasized by Al-Khateeb on the first day.

“We need to increase the connectivity within the Kingdom, to the Kingdom and of course outside in order to increase the trade and do business and have more exports, more imports, and all of the above,” she stated.

Manzo continued: “In that regard it is very important to continue with the partnerships, not only at the destination level, but also at the corporate level and with the different entities, with the government. Without transport, we don’t have tourism, and tourism is very important for transport also to grow.”

 

 

 


Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 

Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 
Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 

Saudi Arabia closes May sukuk issuance at $860m 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has completed its riyal-denominated sukuk issuance for May at SR3.23 billion ($860 million), according to the National Debt Management Center. 

In April, Saudi Arabia issued sukuk amounting to SR7.39 billion, while it was SR4.44 billion and SR7.87 billion in March and February respectively. 

NDMC revealed that the Shariah-compliant debt product for May was divided into two tranches.

The first tranche valued at SR71 million is set to mature in 2029, while the second one amounting to SR3.16 billion is due in 2036. 

In March 2024, NDMC concluded its second government sukuk savings round, with a total volume of requests reaching SR959 million, allocated to 37,000 applicants.

NDMC, at that time, said that the financial product, also known as Sah, offers a return of 5.64 percent, with a maturity date in March 2025. 

In April, a report released by S&P Global said that sukuk issuance globally is expected to hover between the $160 billion to $170 billion mark in 2024, representing a steady momentum from $168.4 billion in 2023 and $179.4 billion in 2022. 

According to the US-based firm, the issuance of this Shariah-compliant debt product began on a strong footing in 2024, with Saudi Arabia becoming a key contributor to the performance. 

The credit rating agency also noted that the sukuk market will continue to grow in the near term driven by financing needs in core Islamic finance countries, along with the ongoing economic transformation programs which are currently underway in nations like Saudi Arabia. 

“The market has started 2024 on a strong footing, with total issuance reaching $46.8 billion at March 31, 2024, compared with $38.2 billion at March 31, 2023. Saudi Arabia was a key contributor to this performance,” said S&P Global. 

It added: “The drop in issuance volumes in 2023, which mainly resulted from tighter liquidity conditions in Saudi Arabia’s banking system and Indonesia’s lower fiscal deficit, was somewhat compensated by an increase in foreign currency-denominated sukuk issuance.” 

In April, another report released by Fitch Ratings also echoed similar views and noted that global sukuk issuance is expected to continue growing in the coming months of this year. 

Fitch noted that economic diversification efforts and the rapid development of the debt capital market in the Gulf Cooperation Council region will propel the growth of the sukuk market in the coming months.