Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Artificial Intelligence in the Middle East: Opportunities and New Markets

Many countries are striving to integrate artificial intelligence in the Middle East into their public administrations and economic sectors to increase productivity and efficiency.

Artificial Intelligence Middle East
The Ameca humanoid robot greets visitors during the GITEX Global technology show at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) in the Gulf emirate, on October 12, 2022. Karim SAHIB / AFP

Ali Noureddine

This article was translated from Arabic.

In an effort to increase productivity and efficiency, countries across the world are racing to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into their public administrations and economic sectors. Several nations in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, and Türkiye, are especially eager to compete in this field.

For example, the ability of “Chat GPT” to use AI to generate texts, respond to questions, and offer original analyses—even if they are basic and simplified— has aroused public interest and a flurry of reactions.

However, this application only scratches the surface of the enormous strides made by AI technology in a variety of scientific and commercial sectors. After years of sluggish technological advancement, AI has at last cast off its limitations and made great strides.

Opportunities in all economic sectors

The concept of artificial intelligence (AI) is founded on the idea of enabling machines and computer programs to replicate certain mental capabilities of the human mind, including the ability to learn, analyze and draw quick conclusions based on extensive databases. Due to the rapid progress in this technology, PWC studies predict that AI will contribute to 45 per cent of the total increase in economic profits resulting from the development of goods and services by 2030. Furthermore, AI is expected to contribute around $15.7 trillion to the global economy by then.

In the medical and pharmaceutical industries, AI technologies are aiding scientists in creating algorithms that analyze protein structures to design specific drugs to treat imbalances in their structures. The ability to conduct these analyses based on extensive databases has been a long-standing challenge for scientists, spanning over half a century.

In the technology and social media sectors, research centers predict that 2023 will be a critical year for companies expanding in this field by using AI to analyze images, videos, and texts and directing them to users based on their previous viewing patterns. Social media has already started relying on these technologies in recent years, but further research and development in this field will enable more precise and in-depth analysis of users’ content.

There is widespread anticipation that artificial intelligence technologies will revolutionize educational methods and curricula, freeing teachers from administrative tasks such as preparation, correction, and evaluation. Furthermore, studies suggest that AI will lead to substantial progress in industrial activity, particularly in terms of opportunity evaluation, market analysis, demand trend forecasting, and customized product manufacturing to meet individual customer requirements.

In essence, AI has the potential to significantly alter the shape, productivity, and profitability of all economic sectors. Consequently, many major companies worldwide are investing in seizing the opportunities that these technologies present. Similarly, numerous Middle Eastern governments have begun to recognize the significance of these prospects and are generously investing in this particular field.

Artificial intelligence within the Saudi Vision 2030

Since 2016, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been implementing its Saudi Vision 2030, a comprehensive plan to transform the nation into a global investment powerhouse and reduce its reliance on oil as the primary engine of its economy. To support this vision, the Kingdom developed the National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence, which aims to integrate artificial intelligence techniques and data analysis across all economic sectors.

In line with this strategy, the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence was established to oversee its implementation and related initiatives. The authority also manages the SADAIA Academy, which aims to equip public and private sector employees with the skills to use artificial intelligence and integrate it into their job responsibilities.

The Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence has set its sights on developing big data platforms and analysis tools, in collaboration with the private sector, to incorporate artificial intelligence techniques into five key areas:

– Government: by linking all public institution and administration data, improving access to this data, and establishing a smart-based government sector. The ultimate goal is to automate official transactions, certify them through artificial intelligence techniques, and achieve maximum productivity and effectiveness.

– Education: by modernizing academic curricula to include the study of artificial intelligence technologies and their role in all sectors.

– Healthcare: by integrating artificial intelligence in medical research and the pharmaceutical industry.

– Energy: by optimizing the management of energy supply chains through programs and algorithms, which will increase the efficiency of this sector and its production and absorptive capacity.

– Transportation and Communication: by establishing new information systems based on smart technologies in managing the transport sector, using daily databases.

UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence

The UAE recognized early on the importance of keeping pace with progress in the field of artificial intelligence and adopting these technologies in all economic sectors. To this end, in October 2017 the UAE ratified the “UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence,” which outlines a set of government initiatives to be completed by 2031. The UAE has also designated a Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence to align the strategy’s goals with other government plans.

The strategy aims to leverage artificial intelligence to manage water networks by using big data to study ways to optimize the use of water resources and reduce waste. It also aims to use these technologies to manage the traffic sector by developing preventive mechanisms to predict potential accidents and traffic congestion based on daily statistics in each region. The UAE is also counting on artificial intelligence to develop electricity networks that rely on renewable energy by studying their productivity throughout the year and organizing new projects accordingly.

In the public sector, the UAE intends to integrate artificial intelligence with security services, particularly in the area of identification through cameras. Additionally, the government plans to automate all government services for residents while reducing administrative burdens through smart data management technologies.

Initiatives of other Middle Eastern countries

Many countries in the Middle East have undertaken similar initiatives to adopt and integrate artificial intelligence into their economic sectors. For example, Kuwait has created tax incentive packages for technology companies specialized in AI since 2021, to prompt them to establish offices and affiliated companies in Kuwait.

Jordan has recently approved the “Jordanian Strategy for Artificial Intelligence,” which includes an implementation plan of 68 new projects. The executive plan aims to establish an integrated economic and scientific system based on smart technologies to support the performance of the private and public sectors. The government strategy seeks to ensure a legislative and regulatory environment that is supportive of the work of technology companies, as well as initiatives that support research work related to artificial intelligence and its industrial fields of use.

In Türkiye, universities have developed a new specialization in the field of artificial intelligence, with curricula that cater to the needs of the Turkish industrial sector and its growth potential in light of smart data study techniques. The Turkish government has also established specialized data and research centers and laboratories to support Turkish industrial enterprises in the process of transitioning to the use of artificial intelligence in their operations. The strong industrial sector of Türkiye necessitates these initiatives to maintain the competitiveness of its exports.

The current state of affairs confirms that Middle Eastern countries are not lagging far behind in the global competition to harness artificial intelligence technologies. However, there is an urgent need today to develop the legislative systems of these countries, in addition to initiatives aimed at developing technical capabilities, so that laws can avoid any possible caveats that may result from this new approach. The collection and use of big data, with the aim of using them in artificial intelligence techniques, is often surrounded by concerns related to privacy laws that need to be considered.

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