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Top 10 Middle East stories of 2023

Middle Eastern countries are on digital journeys, with many pinning their futures on expertise in advanced technologies

Countries in the Middle East are spending huge sums of money, made from selling fossil fuels, in the diversification of their economies.

This means digital technology will play a key role in the region’s economic development.

It will cost a lot for countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia to catch the US in tech, with the need to build a local skills base and hire brains from abroad, but money is one thing not in short supply for the two aforementioned countries.

In this review of 2023, we feature how the region is advancing in artificial intelligence (AI) with an update on the progress being made at Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence in the UAE, a university dedicated to AI. Also in the UAE, we feature an article on the development of an Arabic Large Language Model.

In Saudi Arabia, progress is being made on where the country sees itself in 2030. Read the latest about the plan to create a vibrant society, a thriving economy not reliant on fossil fuel and an ambitious nation.

Smaller Middle East economies are also on digital journeys. Developments in e-commerce in Kuwait, as well as the introduction of biometric payments, also feature in this top 10 review. Over in Jordan, we look at a major bank and its introduction of a banking app built on Google-inspired technology.

Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 Middle East stories of 2023. 

1. The world’s most advanced Arabic LLM is now available on open source

Inception, an Abu Dhabi-based subsidiary of G42, has released an Arabic large language model (LLM) to open source. The new model, called Jais, uses 13 billion parameters, which is a measure of its sophistication and degree of precision. Parameters can be thought of as coefficients of a series of algebraic equations. 

2. Dubai Smart IoT unclear on deadline, but not ambition

While the Dubai Smart IoT strategy reads like any other ambitious – and equally ambiguous – plan for the overhaul of a Gulf state economy, there is still a clear message that the country is serious about technology. The plan is to protect Dubai’s digital wealth and get all government departments to undergo digital transformation, and one of the objectives of the transition is to become a 100% paperless government. 

3. Jordan’s Ahli Bank launches app on cloud-native platform

Jordan Ahli Bank has launched a banking app that allows its business and retail customers to make and receive payments at a lower cost. Built on a Google-inspired cloud-native banking platform, the Qawn app, which the bank describes as a “social payments app”, is connected to Jordanian payment network CliQ.

4. UAE university vies for international recognition in AI education and research

Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence was founded in 2019 as part of the national strategy for AI in the United Arab Emirates, with a single campus located in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. The university is another example of how committed the UAE is to using AI as a driving force for future growth and prosperity.  

5. Employee perception may be key to success of UAE’s big data initiative

The United Arab Emirates officially launched the United Nations Big Data Sustainable Development platform on 25 January 2022. This is part of the country’s national agenda for harnessing the power of big data, while at the same time adhering to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Under this agenda, the UN hopes to steer the world towards “universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination”.

6. The CIO challenges brought by e-commerce in Kuwait

For better or for worse, the mall culture in Kuwait has prevented growth in online shopping for the past two decades. But people couldn’t go out much during the pandemic, so many of them began to dabble in online shopping. Some of the habits developed during lockdowns seem to have taken hold. According to industry analysts and IT directors in the region, mall shopping seems to be giving way to e-commerce – at least to some extent.

7. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030: Progress report

Saudi Arabia has long recognised the need to diversify its economy and minimise its exposure to fluctuations in the world’s appetite for oil, and one major move in this aim was made in 2016, when the Kingdom launched Vision 2030, a statement of what the country should strive to become by the year 2030.

8. UAE improves healthcare through information technology

In February 2023, Emirate Health Services in the United Arab Emirates launched an innovation strategy for the years 2023 through 2026. It intends to achieve a number of objectives, including enhancing the sustainability of health-related innovations. The EHS strategy aims to build local skills and boost innovation in companies, adopt pilot projects and build a strong ecosystem of healthcare startups.

9. Kuwait bank introduces biometric payments card

Kuwait International Bank is using technology from Zwipe to provide customers with biometric security on payment cards, adding a layer of authentication through fingerprint recognition technology. With contactless payments becoming the most popular way of paying in person, users are demanding higher payment limits – an extra layer of security could lead to unlimited limits on payments.

10. CTO interview: Gavin Rea, Gulf Bridge International

As chief technology officer at Gulf Bridge International (GBI), Gavin Rea is responsible for the design, operation and evolution of GBI’s submarine cable and associated terrestrial cable networks. GBI provides connectivity from the Gulf into Europe, India and Southeast Asia, and connectivity among the Gulf states.

Read more on Information technology (IT) in the Middle East

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