Technology is changing every sector at a speed and scale that is unprecedented in human history. The public sector is no exception, as artificial intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies are increasingly effectively applied to government workflows. What we know as the status quo is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of citizens in the 21st century. The arrival of an AI-augmented government is inevitable. The only question is how soon different countries will begin to reap the benefits of this transformative technology. Early adopters are already seeing the impact of AI across a range of different government functions, from improving citizen services to making better use of data and analytics for decision-making. In the Middle East, there is a growing recognition of the potential for AI to transform the public sector.
Penetrating the Middle East
In recent years, Middle East countries have been turning to AI to improve public sector performance. Several GCC countries have invested significantly in it, with the UAE and Saudi Arabia leading the charge.
The UAE put the world on notice in 2017 by launching one of the world’s first national AI strategies, the ‘UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence’. This UAE Centennial Plan 2071 initiative focuses on four main areas: government development, economy, education and community cohesion — covering everything from transport to renewable energy, space exploration and more.
The goal is to position the UAE as the country with the best quality of life within the next 50 years, enabling future generations to enjoy a better environment, a more prosperous future, and stronger communication links with other regions of the globe.
This strategy highlights an intentional effort by the government to develop the country’s AI skills and eventually deliver all services via AI. The recent attraction of a leading firm, Falcons.AI, is proof of its effectiveness.
The AI service provider has already set up operations in Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ). They intend to test their latest technologies, including natural language processing (NLP), emotion detection application, and a smart poultry health solution known as PreciseAG.ai, in their initial phase of operations. With pre-existing business-to-business and business-to-government products in its portfolio, Falcons.AI aims to leverage AI to create solutions to technical issues faced by businesses and end-users in the UAE and across the globe.
Saudi Arabia is also making great strides in AI. In 2020, the government launched a multi-billion dollar strategy to become a leading force in AI and data by 2030. Saudi Arabia will invest $20 billion between now and 2030, according to Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, head of the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority. “We aspire to have AI as a component of an alternative economy through startups and innovation companies. We view AI as a source of savings and additional income,” he added.
By 2030, Saudi Arabia is projected to experience the largest economic impact from AI in the region. The country’s ‘Vision 2030’ strategy aims to have a vibrant digital economy. The vision relies heavily on AI, as Saudi Arabia has shown with its innovative AI projects. They already boast rights as the nation with the first robot citizen, Sophia. In addition to this, they are also constructing Neom, an automated new future metropolis that will have a higher robot population than humans.
Dubai has also made massive investments in smart cities, with ‘Rashid’ and ‘Mahboub’, two public service chatbots, already in use. ‘Rashid’, named after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, former Ruler of Dubai, is an AI system that employs a database containing the numerous government agencies that come under the project to deliver trustworthy and official replies to questions about procedures, policies, and documents. ‘Mahboub’, which translates to ‘the liked good’ in English, was introduced by the Road and Transport Authority (RTA). The software is bilingual (Arabic and English) and is styled like the RTA’s human call centre representatives. You can ask the chatbot about licence applications, parking information, metro transport and tax information, etc. Both chatbots help government agencies provide seamless and real-time service updates to citizens.
If this is a sign of things to come, the future continues to get brighter for the UAE and its neighbours.