Saudi Arabia Partners with Google to Close AI Gender Gap

Saudi Arabia has launched a global training program on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to reduce the gender gap in the technology sector.

The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) joined forces with Google Cloud to develop the Elevate Program. Running until 30 August 2023, the initiative’s first phase will offer free training sessions on AI and machine learning to 1000 women in 28 countries. Rehab Alarfaj, General Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Competitiveness at SDAIA stated that the program aims to empower over 25000 women in emerging markets over the next five years. First announced at the September 2022 Global AI Summit in Riyadh, the program offers two streams with separate classes for technical specialists and non-specialists who wish to develop their skills.

Despite the rapid growth of the global AI industry in recent years, women remain underrepresented in the sector. According to UNESCO, women account for only 20% of employees in technical roles in machine learning companies and 12% of artificial intelligence researchers worldwide. At the 2022 Global AI Summit, Princess Haifa Bint Abdul Aziz Al-Muqrin, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to UNESCO, highlighted how inequality in the tech industry is depriving the world of immense untapped talent. She insisted that women’s involvement and perspectives are necessary in the technology sector to make it work for everyone, as reported by Arab News

The Elevate program is the latest move by Saudi Arabia to consolidate its position as a regional leader in AI. The Kingdom is seeking to diversify its economy away from oil dependence as part of the Vision 2030 initiative, and in 2019 announced a $500 billion investment fund for emerging technologies over the next decade. According to Al Khaleej Online, the country has set a target to establish 400 tech companies and attract investments worth 80 billion riyals by 2030. The news outlet also reports that more than 50% of Saudi organisations will use AI services by the end of the year, rising to 70% by 2024; the Ministry of Commerce has seen a 74% increase in commercial records relating to AI in the first quarter of this year alone. Saudi projects utilising AI include NEOM’s flagship development The Line. NEOM CEO Nadhmi Al Nasr stated that “AI is the beating heart” of the project, and it “will depend entirely” on the use of the technology.

A report by Research and Markets predicts that the Middle East and North Africa AI market will soar in value to $8.4 billion by 2026. Saudi Arabia has the largest digital economy in the region and, according to PWC, the contribution of AI to Saudi’s economy will surpass $135.2 billion in 2030, equivalent to 12.4% of GDP. Saudi Arabia boasts a young, tech-savvy population with a significant demand for digital services. The 2023 Stanford University AI Index Report ranked the Kingdom second globally for societal awareness of AI, and Riyadh is keen to harness this knowledge for economic gains.





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