Artificial Intelligence Strategy in the Middle East by Richie Santosdiaz for The Fintech Times
AI Editor's Choice Middle East & Africa Weekend Read

Artificial Intelligence Strategy In The Middle East

Artificial Intelligence (AI)’s role in the Middle East is a similar trend that it faces across the rest of the world, meaning it has grown in importance, relevance and economic value.

Various countries across the Middle East have placed an emphasis on AI. Clear examples of that have been nation-wide strategies around AI and part of wider government digital transformations. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), economic development diversifications such as Saudi Vision 2030 has prioritised wider future and innovative economies. Sectors such as fintech and AI-both fintech and non-fintech related- play a strong role in that.

It is not just nation-wide economic development diversification strategies such as Vision 2030 but also, complimenting and in parallel, strategies purely around AI. For example, the UAE has its Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031. To note, the UAE has prioritised a commitment to “smart,” advocating application and adoption of exponential technologies (such as AI) to transform business, government, and society.

Its commitment to wider digital transformation is pretty clear, as it ranks the highest in the Arab World (and 12th globally) in digital competitiveness. With respect to AI it was also the first country in the world to have a State Ministry of AI. Dubai, for instance, from 2015 to 2018, attracted a total of $21.6 billion in foreign direct investments (FDI) for artificial intelligence and robotics, said to be the highest in the world. Also, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala announced that it will become an investor in Group42 (G42), an artificial intelligence and cloud computing company, via the integration of Injazat and Khazna Data Centers (Khazna).

Recent estimates of AI contribution to economic growth suggest significant positive impact on Middle East GDP—more than USD 300 billion by 2031, according to a report from PwC
Recent estimates of AI contribution to economic growth suggest significant positive impact on Middle East GDP—more than USD 300 billion by 2031, according to a report from PwC IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

Recent estimates of AI contribution to economic growth suggest significant positive impact on Middle East GDP—more than $300 billion by 2031, according to a report from PwC. In the UAE, for instance, it is expected to contribute almost $100 billion USD (or around under 14% of its gross domestic product (GDP). In the GCC4 (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman), the AI contribution to the economy is expected to be almost $46 billion by 2030 – around 8.2% of its GDP.

Saudi Arabia at its recent Global AI Summit in October revealed its new National Strategy for Data & AI (NSDAI); by 2030, Saudi Arabia’s vision is to become the place where the best of Data and AI is made reality. Under the strategy, Saudi Arabia will implement a multi-phase, multi-faceted plan that includes skills, policy and regulation, investment, research and innovation, and ecosystem development. During the launch, HE Dr. Abdullah Bin Sharaf Alghamdi, President of SDAIA, said, “The National Strategy for Data and AI sets the direction and foundations upon which we will unlock the potential of data and AI to fulfil our national transformation priorities and establish Saudi Arabia as a global hub for data and AI.” AI can contribute an estimated $135 billion to its GDP, which corresponds to 12.4% of the national GDP.

Beyond the GCC but within the Middle East region, examples of prioritisation in AI include countries like Egypt and Israel. First, in Egypt, the government is looking to develop AI capabilities in a number of ways, including launching its first AI faculty at Kafr El Sheikh University. Egypt is aiming to have 7.7 percent of its GDP, or almost $43 billion, derived through AI by 2030.

Second, Tel Aviv headquartered BlackSwan Technologies launched as the world’s first enterprise AI operating system, enabling any company to leverage the most advanced artificial intelligence for an unprecedented level of operational efficiency and data-driven decision making. This has included its recent partnership with Deloitte, to provide banks an AI-powered platform.

According to BlackSwan’s founder and CEO Michael Ouliel, “We believe this represents a true paradigm shift in enterprise software, eliminating all barriers to digital transformation so that enterprises can easily harness big data and artificial intelligence to generate immediate and actionable business insights. Our aim is to completely disrupt the enterprise software market by finally making the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence available to any company.”

42% of the total sum invested in high-tech in Israel went towards AI technologies in 2019 IMAGE SOURCE GETTY

As a whole in Israel, last year, 42% of the total sum invested in high-tech went towards AI technologies. Despite Israel’s strong tech and AI sector, the country has yet to adopt a national AI strategy, which many in the tech community have flagged. Last year, a report by the government’s Innovation Authority urged authorities to adopt a national strategy to include boosting Israel’s data science engineers, supercomputing infrastructure, as well as allocate more public money to R&D.

Other countries such as Turkey, are also preparing to launch its own national AI strategy. From AI as a whole, Turkey, given its large population and economy, has had an active AI scene. In fact, from an AI Middle East and Africa (MEA) report commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by EY, it was Turkey, based on the relative spend on AI transactions in MEA from 2008-2018, that received the top spot $3.49 billion with 252 deals (beating second place the UAE at $2.15 billion with 160 deals).

On a final note, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, AI has been important across various aspects of our lives. This has been aided of course by fintech but AI as a whole has played roles in keeping the global population safe and healthy. From thermal cameras in large shopping malls to contact tracing and other streamlined services such as with payments – the solutions seem to be endless.

AI in its adopting in the Middle East is nothing unique. Nevertheless, its embracement of it as a whole, integration of its solutions and creating its own innovations are remarkable.


  • Executive Economic Development Advisor (Emerging Markets) | Contributor

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