UAE: Artificial Intelligence market to reach $1.9b by 2026

Businesses need to understand challenges and risks to successfully integrate AI into their operations, consultancy says


Somshankar Bandyopadhyay

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The UAE is one of the most advanced countries in the region regarding AI adoption. - Shutterstock
The UAE is one of the most advanced countries in the region regarding AI adoption. - Shutterstock

Published: Wed 29 Mar 2023, 12:30 PM

Last updated: Wed 29 Mar 2023, 2:32 PM

The value of the artificial intelligence (AI) market in the UAE is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2026, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 36.2 per cent, research shows.

The AI market in Middle East is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. According to a report by Research and Markets, the AI market in the Middle East and Africa is expected to grow from $500 million in 2020 to $8.4 billion by 2026, representing a CAGR of 47.8 per cent.

The UAE is expected to be one of the key markets for AI in the region, with the government and businesses investing heavily in AI initiatives. In 2020, the UAE’s AI market was valued at $290 million, data shows.

As adoption of AI into business practices gains ground in the Middle East, business leaders need to clearly understand their data and AI goals, partner where necessary, iterate and experiment, focus on business impact and user experience, and above all, embrace change in the way of work, a leading consulting firm has said.

According to a study by Protiviti Middle East, more than 80 per cent of Middle East CEOs believe that AI is critical to the future of their businesses, and over 70 per cent of them are investing in AI.

The UAE is one of the most advanced countries in the region regarding AI adoption. Government impetus on UAE’s National Artificial Intelligence Strategy 2031, with its focus on attracting talent for jobs of the future, funding research and innovation hubs, developing of appropriate infrastructure and data ecosystems along with a balanced legislative environment, has reaffirmed UAE’s position as a global hub for AI.

Saudi Arabia is also investing heavily in AI. In 2019, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, announced a $500 billion investment in AI and other emerging technologies over the next decade. The government has also launched several AI initiatives. Saudi Arabian Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority and National Data Management Office are driving a national-level transformation towards a data-driven culture in the public and private sectors.

“However, lack of data governance and literacy, and talent shortage are leading to sub-optimal adoption in organisations today that have embarked upon a journey to drive a data-driven culture,” Amit Ray, managing director, Protiviti Member Firm for the Middle East, told Khaleej Times in an interview.

As with any technology, AI comes with its own risks and challenges. Some of the potential risks posed by AI to businesses in the region include —

• Data privacy and security: AI requires vast amounts of data, and businesses need to ensure that the data they collect and use is secure and complies with privacy regulations.

• Bias and discrimination: AI algorithms can perpetuate bias and discrimination if they are trained on biased data or if the algorithms themselves are biased. This can result in unfair or discriminatory outcomes, such as in hiring or lending decisions.

• Lack of transparency and accountability: As AI becomes more complex, it can be difficult to understand how it reaches its conclusions or to identify errors or biases in its decision-making. This can make it challenging to hold businesses accountable for the decisions made by their AI systems.

• Job and Skill displacement and Talent Shortage: As AI and automation become more prevalent, they may displace certain human skills, particularly in industries that rely on routine tasks. This will require businesses to cross skill and upskill their current workforce to stay relevant and sustainable. At the same time there will be increased demand for certain skills that may drive short term inflation of cost to acquire relevant skills

• Cybersecurity Threats: AI can be used by hackers to conduct intelligent cyber attacks and businesses need to take steps to proactive steps to protect themselves from these threats.

Amit Ray, managing director, Protiviti Member Firm for the Middle East. - Supplied photo
Amit Ray, managing director, Protiviti Member Firm for the Middle East. - Supplied photo

To address these risks, businesses in the Middle East need to invest in AI governance and develop ethical frameworks for the use of AI. UAE has released its AI Ethics – Guidelines and Principles in December 2022. The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority has also taken steps in similar direction. “In general businesses need to ensure that their AI systems are transparent, accountable, and secure, and that they comply with relevant regulations and standards. Finally, businesses need to work with policymakers, academics, and civil society to address the broader societal implications of AI and ensure that it is used for all benefit,” Ray said.

AI applications have the potential to transform and disrupt businesses. “With data being widely available, data centers, processing, and storage costs becoming increasingly inexpensive, and a renewed focus on talent attraction and development in data and AI; is creating tipping point dynamics in the Middle East region.  This is further aided by the fact that countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE are on a mission of transformation and diversification from an oil-based economy to a digital economy,” Ray said.

AI can drive increased efficiency, improved customer experience, enhanced competitiveness and better decision making in any business. Furthermore, organisations which are agile and have invested in creating a culture of innovation will further be able disrupt the market by creating new business models and revenue streams leveraging AI enabled digital technologies.

Governments in GCC are increasingly focused on leveraging AI to enhance livability, citizen experience, health and education sectors. “The UAE has clearly taken the lead in this space with Dubai setting in motion a bold vision to become the happiest and the smartest city in the world through leveraging AI and emerging technologies,” Ray said.

Overall, AI has the potential to bring significant benefits to businesses in the Middle East. However, companies will need to carefully manage the risks and challenges associated with this technology to fully realize its potential, Ray said.

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