Leap 2024: Amazon Web Services and LLMs make a splash in Saudi Arabia

Amazon Web Services to launch infrastructure region in Saudi Arabia

Amazon Web Services announced a major infrastructure project in Saudi Arabia at Leap 2024, a technology conference in Riyadh. Photo: Cody Combs
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Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud services provider, is to launch an AWS infrastructure Region (AWS Region) in Saudi Arabia, it was announced at the Leap 2024 technology conference, which began in Riyadh on Monday.

“We’re proud to bring AWS to the kingdom,” said Abdullah Alswaha, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, who addressed a packed auditorium at Leap.

According to Amazon, AWS will invest $5.3 billion in Saudi Arabia and establish two innovation centres in the kingdom.

The new AWS Region will allow businesses, organisations and start-ups to serve their customers by using Amazon's data centres within the kingdom to host various applications or services, the company said.

“With this announcement, the kingdom today is the only nation in the region that has all hyperscalers,” he said, referring to information technology infrastructure projects from companies such as IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, Dell and Datavolt, among others.

“The new AWS Region will give developers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and enterprises, as well as healthcare, education, gaming, and non-profit organisations, greater choice for running their applications and serving end users from data centres located in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said a statement from Amazon on Monday.

The world’s biggest e-commerce company has been in talks about increasing its presence and investment in Saudi Arabia since 2017.

In 2023, Amazon launched an academy in the kingdom to support its efforts to train 30,000 Saudis through a technology development platform.

The announcements made during the opening keynote speech delivered by Mr Alswaha were plentiful and featured several guests.

Rayyanah Barnawi, the first female Arab astronaut to spend time on the International Space Station, briefly shared the stage with Mr Alswaha during the opening speech, showcasing Saudi Arabia’s efforts to increase the percentage of women participating in science and technology fields throughout the kingdom.

According to Mr Alswaha, women make up 35 per cent of the technology workforce in Saudi Arabia as of 2024. In 2022 it was just 10 per cent.

Artificial intelligence also took up a large portion of the opening keynote speech, with a new AI Large Language Model being introduced.

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Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, announced AramcoMetabrain, an LLM based on 90 years' worth of public and proprietary data.

It was also announced that Aramco would be partnering with Groq, a US-based AI chip company that it says can offer a speedier implementation of AI.

Jonathan Ross, Groq’s founder and chief executive spoke briefly about the partnership, giving Mr Alswaha a high five on stage.

“What you’re seeing are the fastest language processing unit chips on the planet,” he said.

“We started Groq in Silicon Valley because of the opportunity, but as you deploy this technology here, this could be the place where the opportunity is going forward,” he added.

It is expected that at least 172,000 people will attend the Leap technology conference, which is now in its third year, over four days.

Approximately 600 start-ups, 1,100 speakers and 1,800 technology exhibitors are also expected to take part.

"This is Vision 2030 in action," Mr Alswaha said, referring to Saudi Arabia's plan, announced in 2016, to diversify its economy away from oil, improve female workforce participation, boost non-oil revenue and reduce the unemployment rate.

According to Mr Alswaha, between 2021 and 2023, Saudi Arabia's digital economy grew from $111 billion to $123 billion.

"We've taken headwinds and turned them into tailwinds," he enthusiastically told the crowd, noting the tougher-than-usual climate many start-ups are working within, amid rising interest rates and other factors.

"We've shown resilience ... we've become the largest, fastest, and highest tech success story of the 21st century," he said.

A video accompanied Mr Alswaha's speech, showcasing older video clips of Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, Apple chief Tim Cook, and IBM chairman Arvind Krishna, among others, discussing their companies' previous investments and plans for Saudi Arabia.

Another announcement was made by Alat, a sustainable technology manufacturing company backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which has joined forces with King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology to boost the development of semiconductor industry in the kingdom.

The agreement aims to grow and diversify the Saudi economy and make it a global centre for the semiconductor industry.

It will support national goals for research, development and innovation in the energy and industry sectors, through the localisation of the semiconductor industry, and by fostering talent for the sector, a joint statement said.

In another announcement made at Leap, Eviq – an electric vehicle infrastructure company – teamed up with ICT infrastructure provider Tawal to build the future of electric mobility in the kingdom.

Updated: March 06, 2024, 8:54 AM