With AI revolutionising many corners of the ecosystem, we take a look at a few insights into countries that are at the forefront of AI adoption…

The Middle East have always been unhesitant and unparalleled in their approach to enormous investment in technologies that are future-focused, and it is no surprise that they wish to be at the forefront of this fourth revolution, which revolves around smart technology, machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence.

In October 2017, Saudi Arabia became the first country to grant citizenship to Sophia the robot, aiming to position itself as a leader in AI development. The UAE is making solid strides in their AI advancements, revealing their plans for robot cops and autonomous vehicles in the very near future, and also in their recent appointment of Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, the first State Minister for AI, whom comments: “In 10 years we [the UAE] will be the capital of AI in service and government. I also think we will be a hub for AI in the region”.

According to a recent PwC study, the Middle Eastern region is set to benefit immensely from their investment in AI in forthcoming years. Research suggests that AI will contribute USD320 billion to the Middle East economy by 2030 – the equivalent to 11% of GDP. The largest gains are expected to accrue to UAE where AI is expected to contribute close to 14% of its GDP, and Saudi Arabia with close to 13% of GDP in 2030.

The UAE are taking the reins on these developments in the region, placing it in a strong position as one of the leaders in AI – not only in the Middle East, but the world. AI is currently at the forefront of the government’s strategic plans to improve efficiency. According to the country’s minister of AI, who gave a keynote speech on the UAE Blockchain Strategy 2021 at the Future Blockchain Summit, “With the combined power of AI and blockchain, the UAE government stands to save AED11 billion in economic return and 389 million in government documents alone per year,” said Omar bin Sultan Al Olama.

Additionally, plans are already being drawn up to transform the medical sector by AI, as Mr Al Olama comments “Today the best skin cancer doctors on Earth can make a diagnosis with an accuracy of 86 per cent, the best AI system can make an accurate prediction of 97 per cent.” Dubai’s strategies include, amongst others: A Smart Dubai Strategy, a Dubai 3D Printing Strategy and a Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy.

Richard Boxshall, Senior Economist at PwC Middle East, said, “In the wake of the fourth industrial revolution, governments and businesses across the Middle East are beginning to realise the shift globally towards AI and advanced technologies. They are faced with a choice between being a part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

“The potential for AI adoption varies by industry, the difference is driven by factors such as infrastructure and access to skilled labour, which are considered key enabling factors for AI development.” He adds: “The impact on productivity alone will be transformational and disruptive for a region like the Middle East which faces weak productivity levels. Investment in AI technologies could strategically position the region for the years to come and help it move away from its reliance on oil.”

Moving forward

The Middle East may be embracing this sector with open arms, but it is still early days and remains in preliminary stages of AI development. Current AI-based systems consist of widely recognised technological innovations that are either adoption-ready or that are currently being fine-tuned or scaled for broader implementation. Beyond 2030, the magnitude of AI’s impact on business operations and society as a whole will have enormous scope, so it is important for the Middle East to be strategically placed at the forefront of this sector, in order to provide a springboard for the future to secure its position as the “region of the future”.


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