Saudi Arabia signs deals with IBM, Alibaba and Huawei to boost AI capabilities

The kingdom, which aims to develop Arabic-centric AI tools, launched its National Strategy for Data and AI on Wednesday

Saudi Arabia aims to attract foreign and local investment worth $20bn in the fields of data and AI in the next 10 years. Getty
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The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) joined forces with US tech giant IBM and China’s Alibaba and Huawei to build advanced capabilities in the fields of artificial intelligence and smart cities in an effort to boost its national data and AI strategy.

SDAIA signed three different pacts with the tech companies on Thursday at the Global AI Summit in Riyadh.

“We are looking forward to developing real use cases in the fields of AI … many of them will focus on Arabic language,” said Majid Altuwaijri, chief executive of the National Centre for AI at SDAIA.

5G, AI and cloud are the new engines of growth ...

“These pacts will help Saudi Arabia to achieve its aim to reach among the top 15 countries in AI and train 20,000 data and AI specialists in the coming years,” he added.

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday launched its National Strategy for Data and Artificial Intelligence, which aims to make the Arab world’s biggest economy a leader in AI while helping it to diversify the economy and reduce its reliance on hydrocarbons.

The kingdom is aiming to attract foreign and local investment worth $20 billion in the fields of data and AI in the next 10 years.

It is aiming to develop customised AI tools that could propel the use of Arabic language in AI algorithms and software.

“Arabic is spoken by nearly 400 million people around the globe … [but] it is underserved when it comes to AI. Together with our partners, we aim to develop Arabic language and character recognition tools using AI,” Mr Altuwaijri said.

“It would support all Arab citizens by offering AI technologies that will be specialised in their local language.”

The partnership with Huawei aims to create a comprehensive strategy that will develop AI skills and capabilities in line with the Vision 2030 objectives.

Researchers from Saudi Arabia and Huawei will work together on various technologies to produce advanced solutions to support humanity, Mr Altuwaijri said.

“5G, AI and cloud are the new engines of growth ... in the next five years, we will spend $100bn in these three areas and it will help us to maintain the leading position in the overall ICT domain,” said Charles Yang, Huawei’s president for Middle East and Africa.

“5G, AI and cloud will drive the Saudi Arabian economy further to new peaks,” he added.

Huawei earned $64.8bn in revenue in the first half of the year, nearly 13 per cent more than the same period of last year.

“We managed to give stellar performance despite various pressures such as Covid-19 and fluctuating oil prices. We are determined to drive it further in collaboration with Saudi Arabia,” Mr Wang said.

SDAIA's pact with Alibaba Cloud will allow it to develop smart cities using AI and empower the kingdom’s urban areas with intelligence-driven solutions.

The deal will focus on empowering cities to effectively and efficiently respond to the citizens' needs while improving the quality of life and transforming Saudi Arabia to become more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable, SDAIA said.

Alibaba will also utilise data to make cities smarter while improving their safety and security.

AI is expected to contribute up to 12.4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product – equivalent to Dh496.2bn ($135bn) – by 2030, according to a report by consultancy PwC.

The inaugural two-day summit is being held online under the theme of AI for the Good of Humanity. It was originally scheduled to take place in March but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

SDAIA said it is looking forward to developing real use cases of AI with IBM that can transform various industrial sectors such as healthcare and energy.

“This MoU is just an extension of our already strong ties with the kingdom,” said Ritika Gunnar, vice president of data and AI expert services and learning at IBM.

“We are looking forward to drive the kingdom’s national strategy using our solutions while promoting AI awareness and education in the community.”

Saudi Arabia also signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Telecommunication Union – a UN-backed internet and telecoms agency – to promote best practices of AI solutions globally.

“AI can unlock insights into some of the world’s toughest challenges such as [the] climate change, poverty and health,” said Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of ITU.

"This MoU will help to optimise the benefits of AI in sustainable development … only 10 years are left to achieve the [UN sustainable development] goals … we will explore and highlight the best practices that nations can leverage for the good of humanity,” he added.