Saudi Arabia is taking its mission to be a leader in artificial intelligence (AI) to new heights with the launch of a new initiative targeted at high schools across the country.
Called the “Artificial Intelligence Hour,” the initiative forms part of the National Olympiad for Programming and Artificial Intelligence in partnership with the Saudi Ministry of Education. According to local reports, the program will see up to 1,300 public and private schools dedicate daily AI learning sessions to students.
The initiative is expected to raise awareness of the potential of AI, “inspire the next generation of programmers,” and deepen the local talent pool. Up to 300,000 middle and high school students nationwide are expected to take part in the initiatives as the country marches on with its AI objectives.
The country has sought talented AI developers since 2022 via the King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) grants.
Seeking diversification from its oil reserves, Saudi Arabia is pivoting to emerging technologies like AI and Web3 to improve its digital economy. A PwC report in July predicted that Saudi Arabia could rack up to $135 billion into its GDP from AI before the end of the decade, making it the biggest gainer in the Middle East.
At the moment, Saudi Arabia’s foray into AI is largely backed by government funding. Still, it is expected that in the coming years, private enterprises and foreign investment levels will record significant participation levels.
“In order to maintain momentum in the pace of technological advancement in the country, there is a need for it to attract more foreign investment which is currently constrained by the challenges in the business environment,” read the PwC report.
Saudi Arabia has reportedly bought 3,000 of NVIDIA’s (NASDAQ:NVDA) latest AI chips to build its large language model (LLM), independent of models built in the West like OpenAI and Bard. The order is expected to cost the Saudi government up to $120 million, with each AI chip valued at $40,000.
Ahead of the receipt of the chips, a Saudi university announced a collaboration with two Chinese research institutes to build a generative AI system tailored to Arabic that is in line with cultural values.
Human rights concerns trail Saudi’s AI foray
Saudi Arabia’s push into generative AI systems has been met with criticisms from diverse quarters, the loudest voices being human rights defenders who argue that the regime could use AI functionalities to compound the existing violations of human rights in the country.
“Human rights defenders and journalists are frequent targets of government crackdowns [in UAE and Saudi Arabia]. Pair this with the fact that we know how AI can have discriminatory impacts, or be used to turbocharge unlawful surveillance,” said Iverna McGowan, a director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Critics in the U.S. have urged the government to restrict the sale of AI chips to Middle Eastern nations over fears of human rights violations using the technology.
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