Saudi Arabia’s Global AI Summit: points of interest for the industry

Saudi Arabia’s Global AI Summit: points of interest for the industry

The 2nd Global AI Summit, organised by Saudi Data & AI Authority (SDAIA), was held from 13 to 15 September 2022 under the theme “Artificial Intelligence for the Good of Humanity”. The three-day summit took place in Riyadh under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince, Prime Minister and Chairman of the board of directors of the SDAIA.

What is The Global AI Summit and why is it important?

The Global AI Summit is one of the world’s premier platforms for dialogue, bringing together stakeholders from the public and private sectors, as well as academia, to shape the future of artificial intelligence (AI). By hosting the summit, the Kingdom seeks to realise its aspirations for global entrepreneurship through an economy based on AI and data, stressing the importance of international cooperation on AI for the common good and supporting its role in meeting the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Key outcomes of the summit

The summit examined eight pillars: smart cities, capacity building, healthcare, transportation, energy, culture, environment and economic mobility. In total, more than 40 memorandums of understanding, declarations and partnerships were signed between the public and private sectors towards investing in AI technologies, underlining the Kingdom’s aspirations to become a global AI hub as part of its development programme, Vision 2030.

Digital Economy and AI

During the summit, the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO)[1] adopted the Riyadh AI Call for Action Declaration (RAICA). The declaration seeks to use AI technology to benefit transnational and transcontinental communities, advancing the DCO’s commitment to identify and address present, emerging and future humanitarian issues. The declaration highlights seven key pillars that will help to bring this future into reality: closing the digital divide, empowering underprivileged communities, promoting digital development, ensuring fairness and non-discrimination, driving AI innovation, combating climate change through AI and engaging in international collaboration and cooperation.

To execute the declaration, a series of actions is required. Firstly, all member states need to improve their digital infrastructure, formulate ethical AI guidelines, provide people with AI literacy, employ AI to advance human rights, reduce human impact on the climate and accelerate AI accessibility across nations. Accordingly, the declaration and member states need to cooperate with private stakeholders to drive their initiatives and implement AI according to national and global perspectives.

In addition, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) signed an agreement with SDAIA to formulate a Global AI Readiness Framework for key socio-economic domains, such as health and smart mobility, to harness AI’s full potential. According to the agreement, the ITU will develop the AI Readiness Framework with funding support from SDAIA. The agreement aims to establish best practices for artificial intelligence, regulatory frameworks and institutional reforms, while also encouraging them to overcome existing challenges by allowing a variety of tools and activities to explore national AI best practices and countries’ readiness. With the support of SDAIA, the ITU-led initiative could therefore be considered a necessary guideline for governments worldwide to grasp how to use AI more effectively with their resources, as well as how to enable AI-based start-ups to build their own national AI economies. Furthermore, the set of frameworks will be critical for international stakeholders to identify where AI is being used most effectively, learn from others and make long-term investments in AI economies where their innovations and services will be fully adopted.

Sustainability and AI

To reduce carbon emissions across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, SDAIA and IBM signed a strategic agreement to drive the adoption of AI across the Kingdom’s carbon capture and industrial domains. Riyadh has also committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2060 and supporting multinational action to cut emissions. This agreement is especially critical while mega smart city and infrastructure projects, such as NEOM or the Red Sea, are being designed, ensuring sustainability objectives are in mind.

Furthermore, a first-of-its-kind AI centre for sustainability research and development in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East was announced during the summit. The “AI Centre for Environment, Water and Agriculture” brings together SDAIA and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture (MEWA) with Google Cloud and its partner Climate Engine. The programme will focus on five key areas: environment preservation, pollution monitoring, sustainable agriculture, water & food security and climate & nature protection. Moreover, it will provide training to SDAIA and MEWA Data & Earth and aims to establish “The Earth Observational and Science Program”, which will use earth observation technology and AI to provide sustainable solutions that address climate change risks and enhance the protection of the environment in both the Kingdom and the region.

The agreements reflect Saudi Arabia’s emphasis on the importance of climate change, the region’s scarcity of water supplies and food production systems. Consequently, Riyadh decided to lead climate action using AI. The agreements also demonstrate significant interest from global tech companies in the Saudi market due to its AI-leveraged technologies. The programme will propel climate change action in the Kingdom and beyond, with insights based on the latest advancements in data and machine learning. The scientific research around climate change is highly data-intensive and increasingly cloud-based. Consequently, cloud’s sustainability solutions can help governments and international organizations to leverage climate risk and report sustainability challenges. The “AI Centre for Environment, Water and Agriculture” will encourage more organisations to follow similar trajectories in their climate action roadmaps.

Digital Gender Divide and AI

Google Cloud and SDAIA also launched a global programme, ‘Elevate’, that aims to reduce the gender gap in the technological sector, especially within AI. The programme will provide a four-month training scheme to women in tech and science, empowering them to pursue the growing job opportunities in the fields of cloud architecture, data engineering, machine learning engineering and AI. Additionally, SDAIA, representing the Kingdom, announced that it would join the World Bank’s Digital Development Partnership (DDP) to help developing countries leverage digital innovations to tackle some of their most challenging issues. By joining the DDP, Riyadh aims to contribute to the overall digital development agenda, ensuring sustainable development for less privileged countries. This will involve helping to finance, develop and adapt data and AI technologies to serve humanity’s common goals.

Implications

To realise the summit’s outcomes, the implications for Saudi Arabia are straightforward. Riyadh’s desire to diversify its oil-dependent economy is already set in stone. However, while dependence is still highly relevant, the Kingdom has already found its future alternative to oil: Data.

Against this backdrop, the National Strategy for Data and AI (NSDAI) revealed at the 1st Global AI Summit advanced Riyadh’s commitment to becoming the region’s AI and data hub. The second summit reaffirmed the Kingdom’s regional commitment but went beyond this regional prism to demonstrate Riyadh’s willingness to accommodate SDGs and engage in international cooperation.

Consequently, SDAIA and other stakeholders need to implement projects to accelerate the advancement of AI capabilities. For Saudi Arabia, these initiatives, memorandums and partnerships will accelerate its AI index and global performance, attracting foreign investment. Digital diversification will initially benefit the Saudi digital economy before paving the way toward deconstructing existing digital bifurcation.

[1] The Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO), established in 2020, initially comprised seven member states: the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the State of Kuwait, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Sultanate of Oman, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. However, it recently enlarged to include Djibouti, Morocco and Rwanda.

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