Originally published in Arab News.
Widespread adoption of artificial intelligence is on the horizon, and the coming wave of innovation in computer vision and natural language processing will affect the workforce of the near future in ways that many cannot anticipate.
This change presents a unique opportunity for Saudi Arabia, particularly when it comes to delivering the Vision 2030 goals.
In recent history, the focus has been on how so-called blue-collar work will be affected by automation. Yet, the latest rapid advancement of generative AI applications, including the recent release of Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI service, which includes GPT-3.5 and DALL-E 2, shows that those in jobs involving the production of intellectual property will experience the most profound change.
Past technological revolutions have mostly benefited knowledge workers; however, this time, the creative and highly skilled white-collar workers who work with IP may find themselves on the losing side of the technological shift. IP is generally grouped into four bundles: copyright, design, trademark and patent. In the short term, design and copyright are the most likely to be affected by AI advancements, with systems such as GPT and DALL-E already capable of generating highly creative and original content such as text, images and music in seconds. But as AI continues to improve, all four types of IP could be significantly challenged.
The next crucial thing to consider is how much of a critical role IP-intensive industries currently play in the global economy. According to official government data, these industries account for 30 percent to 44 percent of employment and 41 percent to 55 percent of domestic economic activity across, for instance, the US, the EU and most Latin American countries.
Moreover, these industries also employ some of the highest wage earners globally. For instance, in 2019, wages in IP-intensive industries were 60% more than the average in the US — up from 30% in 1991
So, what does this mean for Saudi Arabia? During the transition that generative AI will catalyze, the Kingdom could leapfrog economies that have spent trillions of dollars building IP-intensive ecosystems.
While Saudi Arabia has a heritage around IP capital, it is not an IP-intensive economy. Therefore, with generative AI opportunities, it could soon reach the same level as countries that have spent decades building up IP-intensive infrastructures. And it could do this much more rapidly than anyone would have thought possible, even just five years ago. So yes, AI will impact large swathes of the global economy, and the shape of many jobs will change profoundly, and that is a significant issue. But in terms of quality of life and potential for citizens in the Kingdom, embracing these shifts could add steam to Vision 2030 goals.
The transformation is already achieving its objectives, with the Kingdom marking a non-oil economic growth of 6.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022. Moreover, Oliver Wyman’s analysis suggests that harnessing the opportunities around AI could layer on as much as 20 percent to gross economic output by 2030 by strengthening productivity. That is a SR1.2 trillion ($320 billion) boost.
Plainly put, this technology means that truly bold visions can be built by fewer people
To achieve this, Saudi Arabia must quickly but carefully enable the structures and workforces needed to navigate the AI revolution.
In addition, the Kingdom’s policymakers and regulators should continue navigating the complexities of this technology shift, balancing the excitement around the potential benefits of this transformative technology with preparedness for its pitfalls.
The key enablers and guardrails needed to build a thriving AI ecosystem include infrastructure — seamless connectivity and computing power will be key, as much of this will be in the cloud.
Talent is important too — people who can use AI with purpose will be core to this shift. Additionally, apt policies are needed to allow for the responsible development of AI skills, while also enabling an entire industry around the technology.
What is more? A market. We talk a lot about the supply side of AI, but demand is also vital. To build an industry, you need a playing field with an appetite to use these new tools so that there is an incentive to develop them. This can be encouraged by the public sector, which drives much of the demand in Saudi Arabia. The public sector, as an effective consumer of generative AI, could create space and encourage scale and innovation in the industry.
The AI transition is coming; that is no longer up for debate. Generative AI is about to change the game – and this is happening at a time when the Kingdom is in the unique position of being able to invest heavily in its future.