By: Mana Honar Pisheh

Artificial intelligence is poised to have a major impact on the Saudi economy, contributing an estimated $135 billion by 2030. That would make Saudi Arabia the biggest beneficiary of AI in the Middle East, according to consulting firm PwC.

PwC estimates that AI could add $320 billion to the entire region’s economy by 2030, equivalent to 11% of the region’s total economic output. Saudi Arabia, in particular, is expected to see AI contributions to its GDP jump to 12.4% by 2030.

In terms of the growth rate of AI’s economic impact, Saudi Arabia is projected to see an annual growth rate of 31.3% between 2018 and 2030 – the highest in the region.

PwC notes that Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan and National Transformation Program identify digital transformation as a key goal. The government is actively supporting AI investment to reduce the country’s dependence on oil revenue and diversify the economy.

However, PwC points out that most of the current AI investment in Saudi Arabia is coming from domestic sources like the sovereign wealth fund. To maintain the country’s technological advancement, PwC says Saudi Arabia needs to attract more foreign investment – though that is currently constrained by challenges in the business environment. Saudi Arabia ranked only 92 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index in 2017.

According to PwC, addressing the concerns of the business community could help attract outside investment and skills that would benefit the local population.

Overall, PwC estimates that AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030, exceeding the current economic output of both China and India. $6.6 trillion of that is expected to come from increased productivity, while $9.1 trillion is projected to come from benefits to consumers.

Saudi government is supporting the development of AI in the country:

1. Investment in AI – The government is actively supporting AI investment through funding from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund and other domestic sources.

2. Vision 2030 plan – Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan and National Transformation Program identify digital transformation and AI development as key goals. This shows AI is a priority for the government.

3. Economic diversification – The government sees AI as a way to diversify the economy away from heavy reliance on oil revenues. AI is seen as a contributor to economic growth and job creation.

4. Improving the business environment – The government recognizes the need to attract more foreign investment and expertise in AI. However, the difficult business environment currently constrains this. The government needs to address issues raised by the business community to improve the investment climate for AI.

So in summary, the Saudi government is supporting AI development through direct investment, making it a national priority in its economic plans, seeing AI as a tool for economic transformation, and working to improve the business environment to attract more AI investment and expertise. Investment and policy support from the government appears to be a key enabler for AI growth in Saudi Arabia.


What Steps are the Saudi government taking to ensure that AI development benefits all sectors of society?

It mainly focuses on the economic impact and contribution of AI to GDP growth. However, some points worth considering are:

1. Upskilling the local population – PwC notes that attracting foreign investment and expertise in AI will help upskill the local population. This implies that the government recognizes the need for Saudis across sectors to gain relevant skills to access AI-related jobs.

2. Vision 2030 goals – The broader goals of Vision 2030, such as increasing private sector growth, improving living standards, and providing job opportunities, suggest that the government aims for AI development to create more inclusive economic growth that benefits citizens from different backgrounds.

3. Regulation and ethics – The government may implement regulations and ethical guidelines around AI and automated decision-making to prevent discriminatory or biased outcomes that disadvantage some groups. However, the article does not mention any current policies in this area.

4. AI applications in public services – The government could support the use of AI applications to improve the delivery of public services such as healthcare, education and transportation. This would directly benefit citizens across socioeconomic groups. But again, no mention of specific initiatives along these lines.

In summary, while the economic impact and potential of AI are the main focus in the article, ensuring that AI development benefits all sectors and citizens likely requires a more holistic and people-centered approach. The Saudi government may have policies in place or underway in this area, but they are not detailed in the article.

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