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The race for AI dominance has begun

In Consulting Services, Thought Leadership

The buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) and the technology value it brings to businesses around the globe is continuing to increase at a rapid pace. Recent PwC research found that the potential contribution of AI to the global economy will peak to around $16 trillion by 2030, and with the Middle East fast becoming a hub of AI, the region alone is expected to accrue 2% of the total global benefits in that year. The UAE is expected to have the largest gains at around 14% of GDP, with Saudi Arabia being a very close second.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are comparable with Southern Europe and developed parts of Asia, and Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar are also showing some AI potential. A key feature of AI in the Middle East is in productivity applications where there are many manual processes that could be reduced.

UAE is leading AI deployment in many industries such as:

  • Deploying AI in customer services in banking
  • Enhancing the drilling production in oil & gas
  • Assisting retailers in forecasting sales and improving shelf space allocations
  • Reducing the rate of accidents
  • Cutting operational costs in transport
  • Minimizing chronic and dangerous diseases diagnosed in healthcare

Governments are investing a lot of money into research, development, training, infrastructure and governance to help kick start growth in their countries. The Middle East is already a front-runner when it comes to attracting these start-ups and they are creating significant investment opportunities.

In October 2019, UAE announced the opening of the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) university. The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) set to open in Abu Dhabi this year marks the latest move in the Middle East’s growing effort to become a global technology hub. MBZUAI is already accepting applications for the masters and PhD program which are set to begin from September 2020. The university will be the first to have a singular focus on AI and aims to attract students from across the globe to help UAE and the Middle East diversify their economic efforts.

This launch comes as part of the United Arab Emirates AI strategy which was first launched in 2017. The overall objective of the strategy is to ensure AI is integrated within the economy and government policies, making businesses more productive and ensuring public services are optimized and efficient. Already, thirty AI start-ups have made Dubai their home, giving a sign that the strategy is working so far. The opening of the university in the UAE will aide common and local research in the country rather than it being limited to the hotspots such as the US and China.

The establishment of MBZUAI aligns with the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031.The UAE is at the forefront of harnessing the power of AI in both the public and private sectors, having appointed the world’s first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence in 2017, Omar Al Olama.

In addition, Dubai Government has formed a program called Dubai Future Accelerators, an initiative to facilitate AI adoption into the public sector and connect the most innovative companies in the field with government entities, with the aim to bring viable futuristic prototypes to life at a city-wide scale. The mission is to imagine, design and create the future by facilitating partnerships between forward thinkers and the living testbed of Dubai.

The program focuses on modern technologies including AI, robotics, genetics, 3D printing, Blockchain and biomimicry amongst others.

For a region traditionally dependent on oil as their gold revenue, these projects are a welcome sign that the technology could play a substantial role in diversifying its economy and building their future. PwC has predicted that AI will be worth $320bn in the Middle East by 2030; in the UAE, AI is expected to make up 13.6% of GDP, followed by Saudi Arabia with 12.5%. This forecast is supporting the notion that the UAE will be the leading AI hub in the Middle East by 2030.             

Neom – the smart mega-city

As part of Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, plans to build a futuristic mega-city 33 times the size of New York, have been unveiled. Officials have described it as the most ambitious project that the world has ever seen. The Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg that Neom will be completed by 2025 and that phase one is already nearing completion.

The city is effectively built using AI and is designed to revolutionize Saudi society by reducing the dependence on oil and making the country a hub for technology. The proposals are nothing short of phenomenal, with promises of technology solutions to make artificial clouds to produce rainfall, holographic teachers in schools, robotic dinosaurs for its own Jurassic Park and an artificial moon.

This project will give Saudi Arabia a head-start into the future of AI, and it gives them time to test the technologies and make improvements. Of course, this is not a simple exercise and all things surrounding innovative technology such as, new processes, policy creation, and social and ethical considerations will also need to be addressed.

Whilst there may be challenges around investment, Saudi Arabia has made progress and the completion of Neom could change the world as we know it.

The future

The future of AI in the Middle East is very bright with such a clear strategic focus to reinvent the economy. Besides the launch of the university and the Neom project, markets such as Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan have over 50% of the population under the age of 25, creating a region more likely to understand and embrace AI. Sharif El-Badawi, partner at 500 start-ups, believes that with the younger population, adoption will simply be a lot faster and the mindset of workers will accelerate AI developments. In fact, they will be joining the workforce “AI ready” rather than having to be re-trained like the majority of today’s workforce.

Crayon, a partner for your AI journey

At Crayon, AI is part of our core business. We offer advice and guidance from world-class experts who have been part of AI projects across multiple industries and have hands on experience in implementing AI technologies to address real-life business problems.

Crayon Middle East recently partnered with a leading real estate company to help them replace a traditional and time-consuming forecasting procedure with a smart, intelligent, fast process using AI that serves their customer experience, reduces operational costs and saves time.

Crayon has invested significantly in taking its AI practice from delivering proof-of-concepts to developing and implementing real-life applications, and we are proud to have been recognized by Microsoft as the global AI and Machine Learning Partner of the Year 2019. Crayon continues to expand its influence in emerging technologies by establishing several AI centers of excellence hubs in various geographical locations.

Click here to read more about our award-winning AI capabilities.

Erling Hesselberg - Vice President

Erling Hesselberg is responsible for all of Crayon's IoT initiatives, IBM projects and University software sales worldwide.