Ten Emerging Technology Predictions For The Middle East
The Middle East spent billions of dollars on technology in 2022 and invested billions more in local industry and tech programmes, some of which could bring about fundamental changes across the region. We can expect 2023 to be just as significant. Here are the top ten Middle East AI News predictions for 2023, identifying areas of technology focus in the Middle East, advances in existing initiatives and programmes, and market sectors of upcoming commercial opportunity.
1. Technology to remain top national priority
2022 was a big year for technology in the GCC. Whilst Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon have always prioritised technology and tech development as an economic opportunity, the Gulf states have focused on buying the best global technology available. According to government estimates, Saudi Arabia alone spent over $40 billion on technology and communications during 2022.
However, the past few years have seen a sea change in government policy, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in particular, investing heavily in programmes that prioritise home-grown innovation, domestic production, tech entrepreneurship and local STEM talent. 2022 saw the UAE officially put tech at the top of its economic agenda and Saudi Arabia commit billions to tech initiatives.
We can expect to see both further definition of national tech programmes and further tech investments across the GCC during 2023.
2. Better data to drive new digital services
A huge part of the region's ongoing digital transformation effort is transforming national and organisational data to make it more accessible and useful for the organisations themselves, customers, partners and other stakholders. In a recent survey from AI company Dataiku and YouGov, 71 percent of UAE managers said their use of data in day-to-day work has increased over the past five years.
This transformation has also fueled demand for data scientists, engineers and analysts, creating a bigger and bigger pool of talent in the region. For this reason, many government and corporate data owners now have both more structured, useable data at their disposal and the data teams to explore new ways of using it.
In 2023, we'll see the magic combination of data and talent combine to innovate more data-driven services at all levels, including government, business and consumer.
3. More driverless vehicle trials
There have been a number of small scale autonomous vehicle (AVs) trials over the past five years, most of them limited to university and corporate campuses.
We've also seen some big plans announced, the biggest of which is the deal between General Motors’ Cruise and Dubai's Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) to put 4,000 robotaxis on the emirate's roads by 2030.
In practice, the largest trial has been taking place on Abu Dhabi's Yas and Saadiyat islands, which currently involves 17 driverless taxis, buses and trams (up from 9 vehicles last year). This is likely to be the pattern for AV trials this year: low numbers of AVs in localised trials, but more of them!
4. Saudi Arabia's EV factories to be fast-tracked
Saudi Arabia has big plans for its new electric vehicle (EV) sector, with plans to build 328,000 EVs per year! So, we can expect the Kingdom's new EV manufacturing plants to be built very fast indeed!
Construction of Lucid Motors' new facility in King Abdullah Economic City (or KAEC) began in May 2022, almost immediately after its plan to build a plant was announced (April 2022). Lucid's plant is likely to be completed this year. Meanwhile, Saudi's own new EV brand, Ceer, plans to start construction in the early part of this year.
This is not all though. A key part of the Kingdom's EV strategy is training and developing a Saudi workforce and this is also likely to be fast-tracked in 2023.
5. Robotics industry ecosystem further evolves
Robotics startups have always found it tough in the Middle East. Funding, talent acquisition and access to technology partners have been persistent obstacles to developing commercial robotics solutions in the region.
Now with a greater demand for robotics in the market, an increasing focus on robotics by new R&D labs and the education system, and more entrepreneurs moving into this space, change may be afoot!
Last year, Dubai announced a new robotics and automation programme that plans to introduce 200,000 robots to the emirate's industry sectors over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the talent pool in Saudi Arabia and the UAE is certainly growing, which makes it a more viable area to be employed in. Government programmes to encourage industrial automation, mean there are more problems to solve.
In addition, the changing dynamics of venture capital funding could mean that robotics startups have as good a chance of being funded in the region, as elsewhere, perhaps even a better one.
6. Advances in urban air mobility
A number of Middle Eastern states have been mulling urban air mobility opportunities for some years now, together with the regulatory and air traffic control challenges.
In 2022, plans were announced in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to acquire at least 150 electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for new services. Meanwhile, drone delivery trials in the capital area of Oman are entering their second year.
We could see both airtaxi and drone delivery trials in 2023, but - as with driverless vehicles - limited in scope and geography. We should also expect to see progress on the regulatory front with more clarity on rules for beyond-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone delivery.
7. More opportunity for spacetech
The past ten years has seen the GCC recognise the benefits of space programmes, creating new government organisations to better manage and develop the sector.
Saudi Arabia has already ear-marked more than $2 billion to invest in its space programme and last year established a Supreme Space Council and delegated the CITC with the responsibility for regulating the sector, renaming it as the CSTC (the Communications, Space and Technology Commission). Importantly, the Kingdom also launched the Saudi Space Accelerator Program, while the UAE launched a AED 3 billion ($820 million) National Space Fund to finance new space ventures. Qatar formed its own aeronautics and space agency (QASA) in 2022.
In 2023, we should begin to see some results from the steps taken so far, including space sector startup funding, R&D collaborations and new startup ventures.
8. Unmanned systems development to accelerate
We can expect the development of unmanned systems for the GCC's defence sector to accelerate in 2023, driven by rising demand across the region, government mandates to spend more defence budget on local production and the growing threat of drone attacks from multiple types of adversary.
The past year's trials of unmanned systems by the U.S. Navy and alliance partners will, no doubt, also have inspired naval forces around the region to invest more in UAS and USVs. With multiple well-financed GCC manufacturers already developing unmanned systems, new breakthrough products could appear at any time.
9. Proof of concepts to drive metaverse sector
Whilst the fallout from the collapse of now bankcrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX is likely to cast a shadow over the cryptocurrency markets for some time, the metaverse is a many-sided thing and there are other opportunities. PwC's Strategy& estimates that the metaverse's contribution to GCC economies could reach $15 billion by 2030.
Although there are an increasing number of VR world projects in process and a growing interest in Web3, AR and VR will get more traction this year via corporate proof of concepts. Some of the region's biggest brands, such as Emirates and Etihad Airways are already investing in proof of concepts (PoCs) and have the commercial scale to reach large audiences with AR, VR and virtual asset concepts.
10. Gulf tech investment gets more strategic
GCC investors, investment firms and sovereign wealth funds have long targeted global tech firms as investments and more recently have begun investing in both local and global venture capital funds that target tech startups.
Over the past five years, we've seen Saudi and Emirati government efforts to foster local tech sectors intensify, even luring early stage startups from outside the region with venture capital offers.
In 2023, in sync with efforts to scale-up a local tech industry faster, we'll see major Gulf investment funds target growth stage tech and science startups with the aim of bringing their operations to the region, starting new R&D labs, forming joint-ventures and ultimately listing later stage tech firms on local stock exchanges.