Forging the Future: Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s Pioneering in Global AI Leadership

Interest in artificial intelligence has skyrocketed since OpenAI ChatGPT became a viral sensation following its successful release in November 2022. After that, the AI development race began worldwide, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates became the contenders for the leadership. Significant financial investment, attracting the best talent, creating an enabling ecosystem, and focusing on specific AI programs contribute to the fact that both countries are now considered to be among the world’s leading countries in terms of research and development of artificial intelligence.

For tech enthusiasts in the IT industry, the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s focus on AI is not just a trend; it’s a pivotal economic shift. And here is why:

  • Diversification Beyond Oil and Gas: These countries are rejecting traditional dependence on oil exports and focusing on artificial intelligence to build a sustainable economy. The IT industry plays a crucial role in reducing vulnerability to global oil price fluctuations, fostering the development of new industries, and generating employment opportunities that are not tied to oil markets.
  • Catalyzing a Knowledge-Based Economy: AI is the linchpin in crafting a knowledge-based economy. Through strategic investments, Saudi Arabia and the UAE aim to foster innovation and propel their economies into the realm of cutting-edge technology. For those in the IT sector, this shift signals a wealth of opportunities to contribute to and thrive in a forward-thinking, knowledge-centric environment.
  • Global Investment Magnet and Job Creation: Saudi Arabia and the UAE have set their sights on leveraging AI to attract foreign investments and catalyze job creation within their borders. This strategic move positions the IT industry as a driving force in the economic transformation, offering a vibrant ecosystem for professionals to contribute to groundbreaking AI projects.

In this era of rapid development of artificial intelligence, the IT industry is at the forefront of shaping the future. Now is the time for tech enthusiasts to join the transformational wave and contribute to the evolution of artificial intelligence on a global scale.

UAE’s AI initiatives

The United Arab Emirates has become a leader in artificial intelligence technology adoption, spearheading and implementing it in critical sectors, from transportation to education. In 2017, the UAE appointed the Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, a groundbreaking step: the country became the first in the world to create such a position. It has further materialized in The National Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031, which aims to position the UAE as a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2031 and integrate AI into various vital sectors. It contains eight strategic objectives:

  • reinforcing the UAE’s stature as a global hub for AI,
  • increasing the competitive edge of the AI sector in the UAE, 
  • establishing an incubator for AI innovations, 
  • employing AI in the field of customer services to improve the quality of life, 
  • attracting and training talents for jobs of the future, 
  • attracting leading research capabilities,
  • providing a data-driven infrastructure to support AI experiments,
  • optimizing AI governance and regulations.

The UAE is implementing many educational programs to spread AI awareness to its citizens and institutions. For example, in 2019, Mohamed bin Zayed University (MBZUAI), the world’s first graduate-level research university dedicated to artificial intelligence, was established in Abu Dhabi by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. MBZUAI offers a range of Master’s and PhD programs in AI and has a strong research focus; the university is ranked top 20 globally in AI, CV, ML, NLP, and robotics.

The National Program for Artificial Intelligence has launched the Artificial Intelligence Programme, a specialist training program supported by the University of Oxford. It is primarily intended for government officials but also welcomes private sector workers and interested UAE residents. The main objective is to provide participants with the understanding and skills to facilitate the UAE’s journey towards its centenary goals. Additionally, in May 2023, the UAE government released a guide on generative artificial intelligence, which serves as a comprehensive road map for government agencies to navigate the field of generative artificial intelligence and provides a detailed introduction to the fundamentals of generative artificial intelligence.

Saudi Arabia’s AI investments

Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to become a global leader in artificial intelligence are evident in its ambitious National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence, launched in October 2020. With a target of attracting $20 billion in foreign and local investments by 2030, the Kingdom is actively pursuing AI development through domestic sources, notably its sovereign wealth fund.

One of the milestones in Saudi AI investments is the acquisition of 3,000 high-performance AI chips from Nvidia in May 2023. These H100 chips are the world’s first supercomputer chips designed for generative AI, and they are expected to significantly accelerate Saudi Arabia’s AI research capabilities. 

In a strategic move, Saudi Arabia joins forces with several tech giants to develop and deploy AI solutions. In October 2022, the Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence announced a joint venture with SenseTime, a Chinese AI company, to establish SenseTime MEA. The joint venture will focus on developing AI solutions for the Middle East and North Africa region.

Beyond global collaborations, Saudi Arabia is cultivating its own AI ecosystem, fostering innovation and talent. Initiatives supporting AI startups and attracting top-tier talent are taking center stage. The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) spearheads this effort, establishing AI centers of excellence, including the Center of Excellence for Generative Artificial Intelligence, in collaboration with Nvidia. The Kingdom actively nurtures homegrown AI talent by organizing AI competitions and hackathons, encouraging researchers and students to tackle AI-related challenges and gain valuable hands-on experience.

Additionally,  Allam, Saudi Arabia’s trailblazing AI chatbot, has been making waves since its beta version launch in May 2023. Tailored for Arabic-language interactions, Allam engages users with up-to-date summaries and suggestions across diverse topics, showcasing the Kingdom’s commitment to providing cutting-edge AI experiences.

Future prospects of AI development in Saudi Arabia and the UAE

The profound impact of AI on the economies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE extends far beyond their borders. As these nations harness AI’s transformative potential, new employment opportunities emerge, propelling economic growth not only within their borders but also casting a positive influence on the global stage. The collaborative efforts of both nations in AI development stand as a testament to their dedication to shaping a future where AI contributes to the well-being of societies worldwide.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are at the forefront of AI development in the Middle East. Both countries have made significant investments in AI research, development, and deployment, and they are committed to becoming global leaders in the field. AI is expected to have a significant impact on the economies of both countries, and it is likely to create new jobs and opportunities for many people.

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