Gitex: Bahrain to harness AI's power in government and industries

Senior government officials want kingdom to 'play a bigger role in AI journey'

Musab Abdulla, executive director for business development at the Bahrain Economic Development Board, at the kingdom's booth during Gitex Global in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Bahrain is looking at ways to use artificial intelligence in the government and other key industries to support its digital transformation agenda, a top executive of the kingdom's economic planning body has said.

The kingdom is looking to leverage the potential of the technology's newest iterations in sectors such as education, financial services and logistics, Musab Abdulla, executive director of business development at the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), told The National in an interview.

The use of AI is being encouraged by senior Bahraini officials, who want the kingdom to "play a bigger role in the AI journey", he said on the sidelines of the Gitex Global technology conference in Dubai on Wednesday.

This would be achieved by equipping Bahrainis with the necessary skills to thrive in the digital economy, Mr Abdulla said.

"We try to make Bahrainis the most effective, most highest value and best choice for employers. They are currently working with a number of partners to upskill Bahrainis in AI skill sets," he said.

The kingdom's strategy is underpinned by $295 million worth of foreign direct investments in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector attracted by the country in the first nine months of this year, part of a total of $1.4 billion in the January-to-September period – the highest in its history, Bahrain EDB said.

The direct investments into ICT came from 14 local and international projects and are expected to generate more than 1,600 jobs within three years, data showed.

These reflect Bahrain's heightened efforts to attract more FDI and companies, and is a "testament to investor confidence", especially in its technology ecosystem, Mr Abdulla said.

"There is a lot of participation. We are finding that a lot of companies are investing and setting up in Bahrain", which reflects the country's ICT strengths in infrastructure, services and talent, he said.

The adoption of emerging technology within Bahraini government departments is expected to be seamless, given 85 per cent of public sector entities are already on the cloud, Mr Abdulla said.

Several initiatives from Manama have paved a "clear path for the government to digitise", and this aggressive promotion and adoption of technology is expected to be felt across other sectors, he said.

"That really opened eyes, regionally and globally, on Bahrain's ability to attract and retain skilled technological centre. And that's the model that we're looking to replicate for things like AI, the Internet of Things and other such technologies."

Bahrain’s economy was on strong footing in 2022 after growing at its fastest pace in a decade, driven by continued fiscal reforms and improved finances amid higher oil prices, the International Monetary Fund said in July.

The kingdom, much like its GCC and Middle East peers, has scaled up investment in technology in preparation for the economy of the future.

Bahrain's Economic Vision 2030 programme, which was launched in 2008, had already outlined that "innovation will ensure the sustainability of a vibrant private sector".

The Middle East's digital economy is projected to grow more than four-fold to about $780 billion by 2030, which would significantly outpace the global average through the end of the decade, a study has shown.

AI has also become a key revenue generator for enterprises as the use of the technology continues to grow, and the Middle East is well positioned to benefit from this, Abdulrahman Al Thehaiban, Google Cloud's top executive for the region, said this week.

Investors have reacted "very positively" to Bahrain's technology strategy, Mr Abdulla said.

"There's a lot that's already been done to prepare us for any technological development, including AI. There's a lot of interest we've seen from multiple countries and we are exploring multiple angles."

Updated: October 19, 2023, 9:26 AM