How Saudi Arabia Is Looking To Develop & Integrate Artificial Intelligence In Its Economy

saudi arabia ai

Yet another country has gone to release the potential of artificial intelligence to fuel its economic growth plans. One of the largest oil manufacturing nations, Saudi Arabia, has now formulated and launched a nation-wide policy on AI. The project has been signed with approval from King Salman and aims to add the market value of up to 500 billion riyals (US$133 billion) in the country’s GDP by 2030. 

The policy formulation had begun last year when the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) was established through a royal decree in August 2019 to lead the charge of the nation’s transformation into a data-driven economy. Besides, the body is working on implementing a cloud platform, intending to build one of the biggest cloud frameworks in the Middle East by connecting 83 data centres controlled by over 40 government bodies.

Under the SDAIA, three units, namely the National Information Center,  the National Center for Artificial Intelligence and the National Data Management Office, were created to manage and execute various aspects related to the AI policy. Apart from this, the kingdom also established a national data bank consisting of more than 80 state datasets, which is equal to about 30 per cent of the Saudi government’s digital assets, revealed Abdullah bin Sharaf Al Ghamdi, President of SDAIA. 

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The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) launched its brand identity for the AI policy at an event in national capital Riyadh with the theme ‘Data is Oil of the 21st Century’. Speaking at the brand launch Dr Al-Ghamdi, President of SDAIA, said, “Data is the single most significant driver of our growth and reformation in the 21st century. We have a definite vision and roadmap for transforming Saudi Arabia into a leading AI and data-driven market. SDAIA is at the vanguard of this change and is primed for national data and AI agenda definition, implementation and knowledge.” 

The event was attended by ministers and the leading government officials and centred on their readiness to make the Kingdom among the world’s leading economies in the adoption of AI. Ever since the introduction of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan in 2016, Saudi Arabia has achieved significant progression in unfastening the value of data as a public asset.

Dr Al-Ghamdi, further stated, “We have seen first-hand, the immediate impact of AI and data-driven actions, and their potential to drive Saudi Arabia’s coming economy, but we are yet in the beginning stages with many untapped opportunities open. We, at SDAIA, have been tasked with setting the national data and AI strategy, and carrying on our country’s vision for the future by optimising our national resources, advancing efficiencies and supporting the creation of diversified economic and technological sectors.”

Neom: AI-Based Mega City 

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy, rolled out in 2016 was aimed at creating sustainable cities and making sure there is optimum use of resources in urban planning, infrastructure and important sectors of the economy.  The Saudi government recognised that AI and automation are very critical in this context to enhance efficiencies in the government. 

Smart cities are an essential part of the infrastructure plan and the country is working on constructing a US$500 billion city called Neom spread over 26,000 square kilometres with state of the art technologies based on AI, IoT and blockchain. This megacity is at the heart of the investment and development in AI,  and the country has publicly committed $500 billion for it. 

Neom will integrate robotics and AI seamlessly into every aspect of citizen’s lives in an effort to produce revenues from key economic sectors for the future, and meet the increasing challenges of constructing a state around oil alone. The country has embraced AI and robotics and it became the first country to grant citizenship to a robot when in 2017, the Kingdom granted citizenship to Hanson Robotics’ Sophia. 

Skills Enhancement To Match AI Plans

With the plan for AI, Saudi Arabia has now officially entered the global race for AI development. It certainly has no shortage of funds to achieve its objectives, even though it may struggle with talent in this space. To counter the scarcity of AI skills, the Kingdom will need to adapt to an open model of educational curriculum similar to global education standards.

To match Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plan on artificial intelligence, the government is also planning to make educational reforms more aligned with AI and digital skills. To generate skills and match them with the AI vision, the ministry of education school is reforming university curricula focused on analytics, data science and data security. 

Diversifying The Economy With AI

At the moment, the AI and data economy of Saudi Arabia is estimated at USD 4-5 billion. By leveraging the power of AI and data analytics in government departments and processes, Suadi Arabia wants an opportunity to generate extra revenues and savings of over USD 10 billion GDP by 2030.

Longer-term estimates project AI adding to a 14 per cent growth of global GDP by 2030, ‘the equivalent of a supplementary $15.7 trillion’. Thus, AI serves a very vital commercial opportunity, and by drawing together trends and networks in artificial intelligence, Vision 2030 attempts to broaden and diversify the Saudi economy. 

AI can address a broad range of financial and societal challenges in the country, ranging from the volatility of oil prices to accelerated urbanisation and water scarcity. Artificial intelligence also has many geopolitical implications, and this is another reason for a nationwide policy for the Middle-eastern nation. 

Vishal Chawla
Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine and writes about AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, cloud computing, and blockchain. Vishal also hosts AIM's video podcast called Simulated Reality- featuring tech leaders, AI experts, and innovative startups of India.

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