UAE Archives — Carrington Malin

July 13, 2021
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AI diplomacy has added a new dimension to international relations and the United Arab Emirates is working hard to build bilateral ties that boost its AI capabilities. It’s also using its AI successes in government and forward looking AI policies to enhance its international reputation.

The UAE’s appetite for artificial intelligence is plain to see for anyone browsing its daily news media. The country’s leadership was one of the world’s first to identify AI as a top priority for government planning and policy, announcing the UAE’s national AI strategy in 2017 and appointing the world’s first minister for AI.

This focus at the top has helped make AI a priority across business, education and the whole public sector. These days, the prospect of AI seems to be embedded into every government programme, public initiative and commercial deal.

It has also now become commonplace to see diplomatic communiqués that mention artificial intelligence. It seems, AI diplomacy is on the rise. The UAE’s foreign relations meetings and forums over the past few weeks with Azerbaijan, Japan, France, Greece, Luxembourg and others have all touched on artificial intelligence.

The GCC has always relied on foreign technology firms and so technology has always had its place in the region’s diplomacy. Over the past few years, the AI race has brought new focus to technology in foreign policy, in particular after the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Israel-UAE tech collaboration on the fast-track

The historic agreement to normalise bilateral relations between Israel and the UAE last August became the diplomatic event of the year. The agreement considered many economic, trade and security issues: cooperation in energy, water and developing a coronavirus vaccine were pinpointed at the time. However, much of the engagement between the two countries that followed has been tech-centric. In fact, the UAE’s minister of state for AI, Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, last year called the new technology collaboration between Israel and the UAE an ‘undeniable need’.

Shortly after the accord was signed, Abu Dhabi-based AI firm Group 42 announced the opening of a wholly-owned subsidiary in Israel, following memorandums of understanding with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., and this year formed a joint venture with the latter. The group’s Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) signed an agreement Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science to create joint AI research and development programmes.

A number of other significant partnerships were signed between Israeli and UAE business groups in 2020. Businessman Abdullah Saeed Al Naboodah partnered with Israeli venture capital giant OurCrowd to form Phoenix Capital, a $100 million fund to back technology investments between the two countries. Meanwhile, the UAE’s in-person tech trade events have seen planeloads of Israeli businessmen attend over the past year.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that the UAE is inclined to ‘put all its eggs in one basket’. The Emirates has a long-standing policy of building bilateral relations with almost all countries across the world, but AI diplomacy has given some of these new purpose. Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, recently described Finland as one of the country’s most important partners in innovation and artificial intelligence. The UAE also seems to have stepped up engagement with Estonia on the back of the Baltic state’s success in leveraging big data and smart systems.

China-UAE relations bring R&D to the fore

One of the UAE’s most significant technology collaborations is its deepening relationship with China. Although diplomatic relations have been established for many years, President Xi Jinping’s 2018 visit to the UAE seems to have taken relations with China to a new level. This has included cooperation on combatting the coronavirus pandemic (for example, the UAE fast-tracked human trials of Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine), energy, trade, investment, infrastructure, and high technologies including 5G, big data, and AI.

Increasingly, the Chinese and Emirati institutions are collaborating on technology, research and innovation. An M.o.U. on higher education was signed with China’s ministry of education during an official visit to Beijing by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2015. That M.o.U. has paved the way for partnerships between universities and research institutions. Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (now part of Khalifa University) signed an agreement with Tsinghua University, sometimes referred to as China’s MIT, during the state visit.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed returned to Beijing in 2019, where he met Wang Zhigang, China’s Minister of Science and Technology at Tsinghua University and was awarded an honorary professorship by the university for his role in supporting science, technology and innovation.

Khalifa University of Science and Technology signed a joint research agreement with Tsinghua University, during the same visit. Khalifa University, which opened its Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute the same year, also has agreements with Georgia Tech, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), among others.

The UAE mission to Beijing also returned with a deal signed between Abu Dhabi Investment Office (Adio) and Chinese AI giant SenseTime to locate its Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) AI Centre of Excellence in in the emirate.

New collaboration opportunities are being reviewed on a regular basis. China’s top scientific institution, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, signed a joint agreement on scientific research earlier this year with the United Arab Emirates University. Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, and managing director & group CEO of ADNOC Group, spoke about the two countries growing technological cooperation at the 2021 Pujiang Innovation Forum in Shanghai.

Expo 2020 Dubai to grandstand tech cooperation

The biggest opportunity for the UAE to strengthen and build on state-backed technology cooperation this year is Expo 2020 Dubai (1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022), at which China has one of the largest national pavilions. Covering 4,600 square metres of space, the ‘Light of China’ pavilion will highlight the country’s achievements in information, science, technology and transportation. Exhibits include FAST (the five hundred metre aperture spherical telescope), the Beidou satellite navigation system, plus the latest 5G and artificial intelligence technologies.

Expo 2020, which is taking place under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, is sure to be the most heavily tech-focused World Expo ever to take place, where visitors will be able to experience how AI, A.R., V.R. and other future technologies can be used for education, green energy, urban mobility and many other fields.

Many of the GCC’s biggest trading partners are naturally using Expo 2022 to showcase their countries’ science and technology capabilities. For example, the USA Pavilion will showcase innovations and technology from urban mobility to quantum computing.  While, according to Simon Penney, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for the Middle East, artificial intelligence will be a key theme for the United Kingdom Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, reflecting already strong collaboration between the UK and UAE in AI and advanced technologies.

Half of Expo 2020’s twelve premium partners are technology-related, including Chinese AI and Internet of Things company, Terminus Technologies which, as the official robotics partner, will deploy 150 service robots across the expo. Other premium partners include Accenture, Cisco, SAP, Siemens and UAE telecom provider Etisalat.

With 190 countries expected to participate in the six-month long exhibition, we can expect Expo 2020 Dubai to facilitate plenty of opportunities for AI diplomacy, AI collaborations and new AI deals.

This article was originally published as ‘A letter from the Gulf’ in The AI Journal.

Also see the previous ‘Letter from the Gulf’


May 3, 2021
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GCC technology investments are growing, as private investors, investment banks and sovereign wealth funds switch focus from traditional investment assets such as bonds, equity and real estate.

In October 2017, Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans to build a $500 billion smart city of the future called NEOM and made headlines around the world. It’s a grand scheme to create an AI-driven city that crosses the borders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – and, mainly thanks to NEOM’s massive scale and expense, some have found the plan, simply, hard to believe.

However, that same year, with far less media coverage, Saudi also launched its nationwide smart cities programme, selecting 17 cities for digital transformation projects, with the support of $500 billion earmarked for modernising urban developments across the Kingdom. Although the largest of its kind in the Gulf, other government-planned smart city initiatives have already been set in motion in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf states have always been big buyers of technology and one could describe today’s government digital transformation policies as fearless! The UAE, for example, has a history of enacting bold initiatives that, rightly or wrongly, would require many years of debate and review elsewhere. The race to embrace facial recognition technologies is one such area of digital policy and a key milestone in this month’s news is that residents of the Emirates can now use biometric facial recognition to access thousands of public services.

Naturally, the GCC’s affinity for new technology has made the region a fast-growing market for 5G, AI, blockchain, Edge and IoT technologies and the past month has had no shortage of commercial announcements from tech companies competing for a slice of the pie.

The buzz around the Gulf’s smart cities market

It’s no secret that partnerships are key to developing sustainable smart cities and these are being put in place at all levels across the Gulf.

This week, digital energy management leader Schneider Electric and NXN, a leading regional provider of smart digital services for the smart cities sector, announced a partnership to collaborate on smart energy solutions. Meanwhile, Chinese AIoT solutions developer Terminus Group and UAE solutions provider Injazat signed a partnership targeting urban digitalisation in the region.

Urban mobility is also seen with increased frequency in the Gulf’s news media. A Huawei exec was quoted recently as being bullish about the market for 5G-enabled self-driving cars in the Middle East and he’s not alone. In fact, overall, the interest in autonomous vehicles seems to have entered a new phase and signing up potential ecosystem partners has become a priority.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), which has a strategy to transform 25 percent of total trips within the city to driverless transport by the year 2030, just signed an MoU with the World Economic Forum related to its Safe Drive Initiative Framework (SafeDI Framework). This was also the month that Dubai’s Crown Prince H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum confirmed that GM-backed autonomous vehicle company Cruise will supply the emirates’s robotaxi shuttles. Cruise could operate its Origin ride-sharing shuttles in Dubai as soon as 2023.

Facial recognition? That’ll do nicely, sir!

Following a cabinet decision in February to approve the use of facial recognition for public and private services, the UAE government has announced the integration of facial recognition into the national public services app, UAE Pass. Users will be able to use biometric facial recognition to gain access to 6,000 services provided by over 130 government departments and public authorities. Private sector payment services using biometric facial recognition ID are expected to follow in the near future.

The UAE is not shy of using facial recognition technology for security purposes either. Already in use by police across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah emirates in public CCTV systems, police vehicles and radar cameras, the number of pilots using facial recognition technologies are growing fast. This week, Sharjah Police disclosed that it has multiple trials in action using drones equipped with facial recognition technology to help police search for suspects or wanted criminals, police public areas and monitor suspicious behaviour.

Robots move to front-of-house in Gulf retail

Robotics has been in use by major retailers and distributors in the GCC for some years for warehousing and stock control. Supermarket giant Carrefour has Tally robots (manufactured by Californian automation startup Simbe Robotics, Inc.) in use across eleven of its retail malls in the UAE, for auditing and stock control. Now the group has started to use robots for customer service, opening its first fully-automated store in Dubai Financial District last year, with app ordering and a robot delivery service.

The idea seems to be catching on and a number of retail automation projects are in various stages of development across the region. This month, national telecom operator Omantel announced plans to partner with Oman Oil Marketing Company to enable the first AI and IoT-powered smart store in the Sultanate of Oman.

The growing curiosity about robots has also given rise to a number of Robo-diners in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. ‘Restaurant Robot’, a new Asian restaurant in the southwestern Saudi port city of Jazan, recently made the local press. Conceived and run by a young female engineer, Reham Omar, the restaurant’s six waitress robots (manufactured by Chinese robotics firm CSJBOT) have proved to be quite a hit with diners.

Increased focus on GCC technology investments

Despite the region’s high spending on acquiring technology, the vast proportion of Gulf investment managed by large private investors, investment banks and sovereign wealth funds has historically gone into traditional investment assets such as bonds, equity and real estate. When tech has been a target, it has typically been the blue-chip stocks and certainly not new, unproven tech ventures. Today, the attitudes of both private investors and fund managers are changing rapidly. A Financial Times exclusive a few weeks ago revealed that Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala, is turning away from its roots and ramping up investments in technology, healthcare and disruptive industries.

Last year Mubadala announced that it was investing $2 billion in a 25-year strategy plan led by tech-focused private equity firm Silver Lake. Earlier this month, Silver Lake disclosed that it is investing about $800 million in Abu Dhabi AI and cloud computing company Group 42 (G42), in a sign of the private-equity firm’s deepening relationship with the emirate. The week afterward, Group 42 announced an AI and Big Data joint venture with Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Although this might look like a game of venture capital pass the parcel, the key takeaway is that big Gulf funds are now looking to new technology and global tech-focused funds are keen to partner with them.

Saudi funds are targeting emerging tech too. Upcoming venture capital investor, backed by one of the world’s largest oil companies, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures was among a group that awarded $50 million to Seattle-based industrial analytics startup Seeq Corp., as part of its Series C funding round this year. Meanwhile, Riyadh-based Future Investment Initiative Institute (FII-I) has invested in German electric VTOL aircraft startup Lilium.

Funding is also being used as a lever to bring research and development into the GCC. Abu Dhabi-based ADQ‘s Alpha Wave Incubation (AWI) fund invests in Asian startups on the condition that they establish an R&D operation in the city. This month, ADQ announced an investment in Indonesia-based edtech startup CoLearn’s $10 million Series A funding round. As a result, CoLearn is already hiring for its new Abu Dhabi-based R&D team.

UAE National AI Strategy

Lastly, if you are curious to learn more about the UAE’s National AI Strategy, I can recommend watching this new video of the Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, H.E. Omar Sultan AlOlama who presents a concise overview of the country’s strategy and its implementation.

This article was originally published as ‘A letter from the Gulf’ in The AI Journal.

Also see last month’s ‘Letter from the Gulf’


April 11, 2021
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UAE innovation plans stand to gain from Israel significantly via collaborations following the historic Abraham Accords signed last year. I volunteered a few of my views on the matter to ZDNet’s Damian Radcliffe for his article on ‘how diplomacy is ushering in a new era for Middle East tech‘, which gathers opinion on the Accords impact on the technology sector from Bahrain, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the US.

I believe that the UAE’s new relationship with Israel, offers technology sectors in both countries enormous opportunities. As the UAE continues to put in policies and incentives to encourage home-grown innovation and attract global tech talent, it can now draw on some of the resources and expertise that have helped Israel to scale its startup ecosystem. Likewise, the growing number of UAE investors interested in early-stage venture capital deals, can learn a lot from their Israeli counterparts.

From the outset, the engagement of Israeli tech firms with the UAE has been enthusiastic, to say the least. Many in the UAE’s technology industry were contacted by dozens of Israeli technology companies in the weeks following the signing of the Abraham Accords. I was personally contacted by more than a hundred members of the Israeli technology sector in the 3-4 weeks following the Accords and conducted dozens of market briefings for startups, investors and technology exporters. We’ve since seen thousands of Israelis fly to the UAE, many of them also from its tech sector and startup ecosystem, not to mention a few high profile deals.

Beyond the initial ‘gold rush’, it remains to be seen how Israeli and UAE technology sectors will invest in each other, compete against one another and collaborate together. However, overall, it seems likely that UAE innovation plans will benefit from the additional technology focus, knowledge and investment inspired by the country’s new relations with Israel.

You can read Damian’s full article on the Abraham Accords impact on the Middle East tech sector here.


April 4, 2021
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Budgets fueled by oil revenues and a relative lack of legacy systems offer distinct advantages to technology master planners. So, can the GCC leapfrog the West in AI adoption?

First time visitors to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or any of the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, cannot fail to be impressed by the pristine international airports, awe-inspiring highways and comprehensive digital government systems.

The region’s state-of-the-art infrastructure and ability to roll-out advanced technology owe much, not only to oil revenues but also to the lack of legacy infrastructure and systems. This has allowed the Gulf states to leap-frog and embrace new technologies faster than many countries in the West. Now they’re hoping to do the same with artificial intelligence, by embracing AI faster than anyone else.

If the past month’s news is anything to go by, the GCC has recently switched its adoption of emerging technologies up a gear.

UAE reveals 4IR development strategy

Notably, amongst the many tech-related government announcements in March, the UAE last week revealed its new industrial development strategy, ‘Operation 300bn’.  The plan aims to create a new industrial ecosystem consisting primarily of high-tech and Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) ventures. The past five years have seen the Emirates push technological innovation to the top of the national agenda. The UAE was one of the first countries to announce a national AI strategy in 2017 and the primary motivation behind its widely publicised Mars Hope Probe is actually to help catalyse innovation at home.

‘Operation 300bn’, which aims to increase the industrial sector’s contribution to the UAE’s GDP from AED 133 billion ($36bn) to AED 300 billion ($82bn) by 2031, confirms the central position of an advanced technology agenda at the heart of the country’s policymaking.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have also increased their 4IR focus during the past few years, with Saudi Arabia forming the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) in 2019 and announcing its national AI strategy in October last year. This month Qatar signaled readiness to proceed with its own AI strategy, forming a new committee to help drive implementation.

Fast-tracking digital transformation

Meanwhile, we’ve seen both public and private sectors increase the rate of adoption of AI and other emerging technologies, further accelerated by the onset of Covid-19.

According to new results released from Dell Technologies’ 2020 Digital Transformation Index, Saudi Arabia and the UAE seem to be accelerating ahead of the rest of the world in implementing digital transformation and cutting-edge technologies. The research found that 90 percent of organisations in the two countries fast-tracked digital transformation programmes last year, ahead of the index’s global benchmark of 80 percent.

This fast adoption is evidenced by news of some massive technology projects that we’ve heard about during the past few weeks.

DP World, Dubai’s multinational logistics and container terminal operator, has now implemented a fully-automated Terminal Operating System for one of its key container terminals in Jebel Ali Port. The home-developed system includes autonomous systems and remote control functionality for all of the facilities in the terminal.

In the energy sector, Aramco Trading Company, or ATC, which is responsible for transporting Saudi Aramco’s oil supplies to worldwide markets, and developer Maana have implemented an AI maritime fleet optimisation application purpose-built for the oil and gas industry. The application runs a digital twin of ATC’s global maritime operations, using AI to automatically optimise schedules across the fleet with a single click and offer scenarios and insights to aid planning.

Desert smart cities

There was also no shortage of smart city news this month, with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in particular, forging ahead with initiatives to improve the lives of city residents, boost competitiveness and develop urban sustainability. Dubai International Airport’s use of iris scanner ID systems for automated passport control made headlines in February. This month, a Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan was announced to leverage city planning and new technologies to create greater urban sustainability.

In Kuwait, Hong Kong group Wai Hung and Investment Projects General Trading Company signed a deal to build one million smart parking spaces in nine countries across the Middle East.  While, in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the holy city of Makkah (Mecca) is deploying solar-powered smart bins to collect and autonomously sort empty plastic bottles.

Abu Dhabi’s AI powerhouse Group 42 announced a new partnership with the UK’s Serco Group to develop AI and IoT solutions for facilities management and support the outsourcing company’s shift towards data-driven operations. We may well see the future impact of this partnership reach far beyond the Gulf.

In another Group 42-backed initiative announced this month, Abu Dhabi’s first public trial of driverless vehicle services will begin by the end of 2021. Initially, three autonomous vehicles will provide transport services to tourists and residents visiting the Yas Mall area, but the plan is to increase both the coverage and the number of AVs involved during 2022.

Building the Gulf’s first quantum computer

Quantum computing has already been identified as an area of opportunity by GCC states, with a number of quantum computing research groups being formed in universities in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  This year, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has been recruiting for a Professor of Devices for Quantum Technologies, who will ultimately lead the university’s efforts to build quantum devices.

However, in Abu Dhabi, the newly formed Technology Innovation Institute (TII) is already building its own quantum computer at its Quantum Research Centre, in collaboration with Barcelona-based deep-tech startup Qilimanjaro. TII is the applied research arm of the emirate’s Advanced Technology Research Council, which both formulates research policy and orchestrates projects, resources and funding.

It’s research and development ventures such as this that symbolise the latest dreams of Gulf policy-makers. Over the years, the Gulf states have proved to be astute buyers of advanced technology, while taking none of the risks necessary to develop innovation at home.

Today, along with ambitious policies to embrace emerging technologies, build smart cities and leverage AI, there is also now momentum behind policies that actively encourage home-grown technology development. The region’s nascent R&D sector has already become an early beneficiary of this policy shift and it’s a sector that the world can expect to hear much more from during the coming years.

This article was originally published as ‘A letter from the Gulf’ in The AI Journal.


March 31, 2021
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The impact of AI in the Middle East special report is out from Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), which includes features covering innovation, digital transformation in the construction industry, and update on Qatar’s national artificial intelligence strategy and MEED’s own Digital Transformation Index.

I was name-checked in the ‘Creating an artificial intelligence ecosystem‘ feature by Jennifer Aguinaldo, which explores the region’s quest to drive home-grown innovation and create an AI ecosystem that does more than simply buy technology from overseas. All the national AI strategies developed by countries around the region include plans to encourage innovation, incentivise startups and nurture local research and development. However, it is Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that have fast-tracked more initiatives, policy and supporting government programmes over the past few years.

As is normally the case with Middle East Economic Digest, the impact of AI in the Middle East report is behind the paywall. If you are a MEED subscriber, you can read Jennifer’s full article here.


January 25, 2021
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Despite the economic pressures of the past few years and the disruption of the pandemic, there is so much going on in tech in the Middle East at the moment. So, there was no shortage of material for Damian Radcliffe’s annual Middle East technology predictions story in ZDnet, which quoted me and others from the region’s tech ecosystem on a wide variety of trends including 5G, emerging technologies, government investment, startups, smart cities, open data and cybersecurity.

Prior to the pandemic IDC forecast that investments in digital transformation and innovation will account for 30 percent of all IT spending in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa (META) by 2024, up from 18 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, it has predicted that government enterprise IT spending in META will top $8 billion in 2021.

During the past 12-18 months we have seen significant activity in several key areas of government spending, including digital transformation, creating Government Clouds, introducing open data policies and platforms, digital services and robotics. Then there was the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) announcement of the Kingdom’s National Strategy for Data & AI (NSDAI) in October, revealing plans to raise $20 billion in investment for data and AI initiatives.

My expectation is that some of the government digital platforms and initiatives that have been created over the past 18 months will support the launch of a variety of new initiatives, local and foreign investment, public-private sector partnerships and opportunities for startups during 2021.

You can read Damian’s full article on what 2021 means for tech in the Middle East here.


January 14, 2021
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It’s been a bumpy ride for GCC technology ecosystems, with plenty of budget cuts, job losses and, due to the onset of Covid-19, slowing venture capital activity. However, some of the region’s most ambitious government initiatives to-date have been put in place to accelerate innovation, talent and growth in the tech sector. Uptake of some technologies also seems to have spiked since the pandemic.

So, is the region’s tech sector growing or cooling off? It’s an interesting question and, as with many questions like this about industries, there’s no simple answer. WIRED Middle East asked me whether I was optimistic about the future of tech in the region. The short answer is that I am very optimistic, although the tech sector is not without its challenges.

It is true that much of the technology sector has been hit hard by the knock-on effect of lower oil prices on GCC IT spending, increase price competition and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on decision making, new projects and project spending. Multinationals and regional technology firms have cut budgets, including staffing and other expenses as a result. However, one really has to drill down to specific technologies, solutions and the current technology needs of customers in the region to fully understand what’s going on. All types of technology business are not contracting. In fact, far from it, some tech firms are growing fast and many of those are working with new emerging technologies for automation, data analytics, AI-powered digital services and other disruptive services and solutions.

There are also contradictory trends when looking at the impact of 2020’s turmoil on jobs and the region’s need to compete for the right tech talent. There are three key driving forces here shaping the region’s tech talent pool: 1) global trends creating new tech jobs and decreasing demand for tech jobs that are being obsoleted and/or impacted by automation, 2) the GCC’s belt-tightening of the past few years due to lower oil prices, forcing public and private sectors to be more cost-effective and 3) the unexpected consequences of Covid-19, which include the accelerated demand for some emerging technologies.

Along side the economic ups and downs, and the surprises brought about by the pandemic, there are the heavily funded innovation and technology initiatives that have been put in place by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. For example, the massive open data projects in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the recently announced $20 billion Saudi National Strategy for Data & AI (NSDAI), Abu Dhabi’s increasing investment in R&D, and numerous smart city and smart city services projects. We’ve also seen an upswing in the numbers of tech startups outside of the popular ecommerce, delivery, travel and transport segments.

However, the one change that I’ve noticed over the past few years, may be the crucial one for the GCC technology ecosystems. I believe that there has been a clear attitudinal change among GCC citizens themselves, that has helped to make technology a more attractive sector for jobs, entrepreneurship and investment. In years past, a traditional career in technology has been a safe government IT job, whereas today locals are joining the tech sector in larger numbers, there is a new generation of tech startups founded by GCC citizens and we’re starting to see more interest in startup venture capital investments from Gulf investors.

Huge, well thought through government tech initiatives, the recent acceleration of demand for emerging technologies and the increasing engagement of GCC nationals in the tech sector are the three top reasons why I believe there has never been a more exciting time for the region’s tech industry.

Read Ashleigh Stewart’s full article on WIRED Middle East.


August 21, 2020
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A great roundup about artificial intelligence in the Middle East by Damian Radcliffe, Carolyn S Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, which quotes me commenting on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. With IT spending in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) forecast by IDC to reach $83 billion this year, AI is going to become an increasing focus.

IDC also predicts that investment in AI systems across MEA will hit $374.2 million this year, up from $261.8 million in 2018 and a projected expenditure of $310.3 million in 2019. However, with many AI technologies in high demand since the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, one has to wonder how this will affect IDC’s forecasts – not just in the MEA region, but globally too.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE had both begun investing in new AI technologies for government use, planning how to encourage AI-powered innovations and looking at regulatory requirements for their Fourth Industrial Revolution future. However, the advent of coronavirus has certainly fueled both interest and investment in artificial intelligence, with public and private sectors investing in automation, data analysis, robotics, health and safety systems, plus technologies to enhance contactless delivery of consumer services.

Despite forcing the cancellation of many high tech events around the region, the pandemic has also, arguably, fast tracked government plans and policies to harness AI and create a business environment conducive to driving successful digital economies. The UAE is reported to have improved plans for leveraging AI consistent with its national AI strategy, while Dubai announced a new comprehensive drone law in July. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia approved its own national artificial intelligence strategy in August – and muted that it would soon introduce a comprehensive law to govern commercial and recreational drone use in the Kingdom.

For more on artificial intelligence in the Middle East read Damian’s full article here.


May 31, 2020
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Abu Dhabi is moving its R&D strategy up a gear with the formation of a new Advanced Technology Research Council or ATRC, to be headed up by Dark Matter founder Faisal Albannai.

With a growing variety of R&D initiatives driven by the likes of ADNOC, DarkMatter, Group 42, Inception Institute of Artificial Intelligence and others, Abu Dhabi is starting to create a significant R&D ecosystem. Last year Abu Dhabi Investment Office and SenseTime announced that the AI unicorn would open an EMEA R&D centre in Abu Dhabi employing 600 engineers. More recently ADQ launched a $300 million startup fund aiming to bring promising Asian startups to set-up in Abu Dhabi. The mix of big tech, new startups and government-backed R&D initiatives could turn out to be a magic combination.

Read the full article in The National here.


January 17, 2020
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The UAE is developing a sophisticated and far-reaching range of initiatives to attract 21st century skills.

In 2015, Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, coined the term ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ to describe our connected industrial society and its increasing reliance on intelligent information systems.

As with previous industrial periods, this revolution will have a profound impact on our world, not least of all changing the nature of work and our relationship with it. However, in the short term, many of the dynamics will appear familiar, such as the increasing demand for specialist skills that serve new, upcoming industries and the competition among employers to hire those skills.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on Sunday launched two new initiatives supporting the National AI Strategy to build capacity in AI talent. Announced at a retreat organised for AI experts by the National Programme for Artificial Intelligence, the new initiatives are part of a far-reaching policy to ensure the long-term availability of talent at many levels, to help ensure the country’s competitiveness in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In light of fierce global competition among nations for leadership positions in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the fluid state of the global AI talent pool, winning our new talent wars will require more than simply outbidding competitors. Today’s policymakers must recognise that they need to attract both home-grown and international talent, leverage human resources that are located around the world and create ways of building long-term relationships that will continue to support the availability of talent. It’s all about building talent ecosystems, rather than simply planning to acquire more people with the right skills.

The UAE government recognised the scale of the talent challenge early on and has been developing a wide range of initiatives to attract, train and develop talent, nationally, regionally across the Arab world and globally.

But what did the previous industrial revolutions teach us? The workforce requirements of the first three changed our planet forever. In pre-industrial societies, more than 80 per cent of the population lived in rural areas. Drawn by the promise of jobs in new industries, people flocked from the countryside to towns and cities. By the year 1850, more people in the United Kingdom lived in cities than rural areas and by 1920, a majority of Americans lived in cities, too. The mass movement of people resulted in far-reaching economic, geographic and social changes that have made our world what it is today.

The changes that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring are also destined to shape the future of human existence. Artificial intelligence is set to transform the nature of nearly every single one of today’s existing jobs, eliminate job roles that currently employ millions of people and create millions of new jobs, including many roles that have not yet even been imagined. Furthermore, the pace of change is accelerating, powered by faster technology development and so putting more pressure on business, economic, political and government systems than ever before.

Critically, for the global competitiveness of both business and nations themselves, the supply of talent to fuel the development and implementation of artificial intelligence systems is in short supply. It’s a highly dynamic pool of talent that is changing rapidly, following different rules to past waves of tech-related talent and it includes people that are more independent of industry and location.

At a UAE government level, an AI Programme has been created in partnership with Kellogg College at Oxford University to train UAE nationals and help them accelerate the delivery of the national AI strategy. The first batch of 94 participants graduated in April 2019.

On a regional level, the One Million Arab Coders programme launched in 2017 incentivises Arab youth at large to acquire new skills, graduating 22,000 programmers in its first year. In 2019, several new modules were added to the curricular, including an ‘Introduction to AI’ module. The UAE also launched a One Million Jordanian Coders’ Initiative in Jordan and a One Million Uzbek Coders’ initiative in Uzbekistan.

Meanwhile, in the country’s tertiary education system, a number of AI education programmes, degree courses and research centres have been introduced to UAE colleges and universities over the past couple of years. In October, the UAE announced the world’s first graduate AI university — Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence. The research-based academic institution offers fully paid scholarships for masters and PhD courses starting September 2020.

The two new initiatives launched this week add further appeal to aspiring AI talent. The AI Talent Hunt programme will create an AI laboratory drawing together national and global expertise to solve real world issues, while a competitive AI Challenge Programme will be rolled out in partnership with Microsoft.

In the race to attract 21st century skills, the UAE is already engaging talent at multiple levels and has begun to build a reputation as an enabler of talent, rather than simply a destination. This effort, combined with its goals to become a global hub for AI research and entrepreneurism, could well encourage much sought-after talent to stay in the UAE, or, at least, keep coming back.

This story was first published on The National