Middle east is one of the top tech destinations where artificial intelligence is playing a significant role. The region is known for its oil wells, which are major contributors to the region’s economy. Slowly the economy is shifting its base from petrochemicals to technology. The region is slowly shifting its economic dependence on oil wells. According to an IDC report, spending on AI in the region is expected to grow at an annual growth of 19%. Consequently, demand for AI professionals and engineers is expected to increase further.  

The growth of AI in the region has been significant. AI can be seen being used across a range of verticals in the region, including consumer, enterprise, and government activities. One of the major significant impacts of artificial intelligence can be seen in the development of smart cities in the region. Banking and retail are seeing equally strong contribution of AI. According to IDC, these sectors will account for more than 33% of investments by 2020. The federal and central government and telecommunication industry will witness significant investment in AI.   

South Africa, the largest AI market in the Middle East and Africa, will contribute around 30% of total AI spending that would come from the automated customer service agents, IT automation, and automated threat intelligence and prevention systems, according to Manish Ranjan, IDC’s program manager for software and cloud in the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey.

Pushing the AI sector in the region 

Not just South Africa, many other countries are investing heavily in AI intending to shift their economy away from a dependency on petrochemicals. Saudi Arabia is expected to accrue the largest gains where AI is expected to contribute over $135.2bn in 2030 to the economy, roughly equivalent to 12.4% of GDP. UAE is expected to see the largest impact close to 14% of 2030 GDP, according to PwC. The company cites the levels of investment in AI in the two countries in comparison to other regions, as the rationale behind its judgment.  

The formation of a new authority and center for AI in Saudi Arabia, the launch of UAE AI strategy in October 2017, and the establishment of the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence are a few initiatives that PwC cites for its predictions. Increasing supply of AI talent by educating more AI professionals is a top strategic priority in the region.

Paving way for the AI development  

 Business leaders in the middle east are keen to adopt AI solutions. Considering these many organizations have rolled out AI-based applications with the belief that if they don’t adopt AI now, it might cost their organization for the next decade. 

The answer, Gartner research vice president Arup Roy argues, is a lack of understanding of the technology, as well as knowing when and where there’s a business case for using AI.

 Lack of knowledge related to AI is a fundamental concern among businesses. When and how to use the technology for a business case is another concern for businesses. 

Not to mention, lack of AI Engineers, infrastructure, and regulatory issues, are key considerations as well as challenges around natural language processing in Arabic. Understanding the impact of automation on jobs and the potential of AI to support and inform decision making.

 A combination of research, education, and policy efforts, therefore, is needed for the potential of AI in the Middle East to be realized. UAE’s AI Talent Hunt Program and 2018’s 1 Million Arab coders initiative are prime examples of the kind of initiatives the region needs. Luminaries like Dr. FatmahBaothman, the first woman in the Middle East to earn Ph.D. in modern artificial intelligence, will be required to inspire future generations. 

Additionally, the governments in the middle east will have to tackle “contentious and challenging issues including the ones that go beyond jobs and labor market skills” expresses Guy Borton, a fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre and adjunct professor at Vesalius College, Brussels.