FDI Archives — Carrington Malin

March 9, 2024

Exploring Saudi Arabia’s ambitious leap into the domain of artificial intelligence

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious AI goals have raised eyebrows at times during the past few years. Some were just not prepared to believe that a country with virtually no AI development, few coders or data scientists, and a technology ecosystem that consisted mostly of sales, marketing and distribution could cut it as an AI hub, on any level.

Undeterred, the country has methodically implemented, improved and developed its National Strategy for Data and AI, investing strategically in digital transformation, upskilling digital talent, backing R&D and incentivising technology entrepreneurs and leading tech companies to come to Saudi Arabia. Just three years later it’s already apparent that the Kingdom is moving mountains to achieve its AI goals and now stands at the dawn of a new era.

I was proud to be asked to comment on Saudi Arabia’s meteoric progress in the official magazine for LEAP 2024, which took place this month.

Saudi Arabia intends to be a world leader in AI and obviously has the ability to use oil revenues to invest heavily where needed. So, the biggest immediate challenges are the right skilled talent and regulatory policy that impacts AI. The Kingdom has surprised doubters by moving fast and purposely to meet both of these challenges. The speed and scale of the education and training programmes introduced so far across the country as been breathtaking.

While many governments around the world have lagged in implementing AI compared to the private sector, the Saudi government has led the charge.

The early outcomes of Saudi Arabia’s strategy, commitment and investment were plain to see at this year’s LEAP event in Riyadh. Attended by tech luminaries such as IBM CEO Arvind Krishna, Amazon Web Services CEO Adam Selipsky, ServiceNow chairman and CEO Bill McDermott, Ericsson CEO Borje Ekholm and UiPath CEO Rob Enslin, the event saw more than $13 billion of new tech investments announced.

The government’s commitment to AI R&D, AI skills and AI adoption was clearly visible, illustrated by backing its Riyadh-based Generative AI startup accelerator with $1 billion. However, there was also proof of local AI development, with Saudi Aramco announcing a 250 billion parameter industrial grade large language model, while local tech firm Matad revealed an Arabic language LLM developed entirely in the Kingdom using Saudi data.

One of the most powerful takeaways from LEAP 2024 was a comment from Jonathan Ross, the Founder and CEO of AI chip developer Groq, trying to make sense of Saudi Arabia’s massive investment in digital infrastructure:

“We started Groq in Silicon Valley because there was opportunity, but AI runs on compute and as you deploy this compute [in Saudi Arabia] I think this could be the place where the opportunity is going forward.”

I can only agree!

You can read Megha Merani‘s ‘The dawn of a new era’ feature, quoting me in in LEAP Magazine here (PDF).

October 21, 2020

The Saudi national AI strategy was announced today at the virtual Global AI Summit by Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) president Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi. The National Strategy for Data & AI (NSDAI) includes ambitious goals for skilling-up Saudi talent, growing the nation’s startup ecosystem and attaining global leadership in the AI space. It also aims to raise $20 billion in investment for data and AI initiatives.

Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, President of the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) today gave a brief introduction to some of the key goals of Saudi Arabia’s national AI strategy, now named the National Strategy for Data & AI (NSDAI). Speaking at the inaugural Global AI Summit, he advised that Saudi Arabia has set ambitious targets for its national AI strategy, including a goal of attracting $20 billion in investments by 2030, both in foreign direct investment (FDI) and local funding for data and artificial intelligence initiatives.

As detailed by Dr. Al-Ghamdi, the Kindgom aims to rank among the top 15 nations for AI by 2030, it will train 20,000 data and AI specialists and experts and it will grow an ecosystem of 300 active data and AI startups. He also urged participants in the virtual event to challenge themselves, to think and work together, and to shape the future of AI together for the good of humanity.

Formed last year, with a mandate to drive the national data and AI agenda, the SDAIA developed a national AI strategy which was approved by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in August 2020. No details of the National Strategy for Data & AI were shared until today.

According to an official SDAIA statement, the NSDAI will roll-out a multi-phase plan that both addresses urgent requirements for the next five years and contributes to Vision 2030 strategic development goals. In the short term, the strategy will aim to accelerate the use of AI in education, energy, government, healthcare and mobility sectors.

Saudi National Strategy for Data & AI goals
Source: Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA)

Six strategic areas have been identified in the NSDAI:

  • Ambition – positioning Saudi Arabia as a global leader and enabler for AI, with a goal of ranking among the first 15 countries in AI by 2030.
  • Skills – transforming the Saudi workforce and skilling-up talent, with a target of creating 20,000 AI and Data specialists and experts by 2030.
  • Policy & regulation – developing a world-class regulatory framework, including for the ethical use of data and AI that will underpin open data and economic growth.
  • Investment – attracting FDI and local investment into the data and AI sector, with a goal of securing a total of $20 billion (SAR 75b) in investments.
  • Research and innovation – the NSDAI will also drive the development of research and innovation institutions in data and AI, with an objective of the Kingdom ranking among the top 20 countries in the world for peer reviewed data and AI publications.
  • Digital ecosystem – the new national AI strategy also aims to drive the commercialization and industry application of data and AI, creating an ecosystem with at least 300 AI and data startups by the year 2030.

Over the past year, SDAIA has established three specialised centres of expertise: the National Information Center, the National Data Management Office and the National Center for AI. It has also begun building perhaps the largest government data cloud in the region, merging 83 data centres owned by over 40 Saudi government bodies. More than 80 percent of government datasets have so far been consolidated under a national data bank.

The formation of the SDAIA follows the adoption of the government’s ‘ICT Strategy 2023‘ in 2018, which aims to transform the kingdom into a digital and technological powerhouse. The government identified technology as a key driver for its Vision 2030 blueprint for economic and social reform. Digitisation and artificial intelligence are seen as key enablers of the wide-ranging reforms.

Artrificial intelligence, big data and IoT are also pivotal for the massive $500 billion smart city, Neom, announced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017. Infrastructure work on the 26,000 square kilometre city began earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the authority has been using AI to identify opportunities for improving the Kingdom’s government processes, which may result in some $10 billion in government savings and additional revenues.

More than fifty government officials and global AI leaders are speaking at this week’s Global AI Summit, which takes place today and tomorrow. The online event coincides with the year of Saudi’s presidency of the G20.

Download the National Strategy for Data & AI Strategy Narrative – October 2020 (PDF)

Watch the NSDAI promotion video from the Global AI Summit (Youtube)

Updated 23 October 2020