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LONDON: Experts have said data is the new oil, which should provide an impetus to Gulf states to further protect this vital resource, including upskilling the next generation in artificial intelligence and other technologies, and dealing with issues of trade protectionism.
These are some of the measures urged by various data and artificial intelligence analysts during a Trade and Fintech Forum organized by the UK-based Arab-British Chamber of Commerce in London on Tuesday. This forms part of a series of forums in the run up to the Arab British Economic Summit 2022 in September.
During this first forum, in partnership with the Arab Bankers Association, a panel of experts from public and private industry discussed some of the technologies that have been implemented and looked ahead at future developments.
Among the issues highlighted were the effects of various factors including geopolitical and socio-economic issues, supply chain constraints and changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the region’s inherent reliance on oil.
Andrew Elia, managing director of computer consultancy firm Arishi, said GCC countries are enthusiastic about data, AI and the potential of the green economy, but there was some way to go before being on a par with the European Union.
“There needs to be an understanding of what needs to happen, which I think in many cases, there is not. But then there needs to be the education as part of it as well. So they kind of go hand in hand, and then it’s the implementation,” Elia said.
“There is still very heavy reliance on natural resources for revenue and all those countries are looking to shift to a different kind of economy, and particularly in the UAE and others, they’re very much looking toward a financial services-based economy,” he said.
“They’re on a long path that’s going to take decades to deliver because it has to start with the education of the next generation, and upskilling them in order to get it to that sort of level.”
Although most of the GCC countries were looking to localize all their content, there was still a reliance on outsiders which has resulted in significant cost implications.
Through Arishi, Elia said they are providing the tools and expertise for businesses and governments to embrace technology and integrate it to deliver on their commercial objectives.
They have also collaborated with the Abu Dhabi Global Market Academy in the UAE and the London Institute of Banking and Finance to upskill locals in financial services training, and developed all of the software, infrastructure, and tools to deliver the courses.
One area they are looking to exploring further, particularly with Saudi Arabia, is medical technology to develop artificial intelligence solutions, including a gait analysis software in collaboration with some academics in Switzerland that identifies biomechanical faults in the lower body. Another project they are working on is a contactless device to measure electrolytes for diabetics that is now being used to prevent Type-2 diabetes.
David Hansom, partner of global procurement at international law firm Clyde and Co., said aside from the pandemic, the increase in wars and recent sanctions, from Ukraine to Yemen, have affected global supply chains and now “we are seeing a long-term potential impact, not necessarily a negative one, but a change in how supply chains work.”
Hansom said a number of financial barriers, tariffs and customs checks have also been imposed and countries are looking to reinvigorate their own manufacturing bases and trying to grow and produce more locally to generate jobs and to boost their economies.
“I think that protectionism, if it carried on, would have a real impact as well on global trade routes,” he added.
He also said there has been a 400 percent increase in shipping costs, delays at ports and in moving people and goods, rise in inflation, and a shortage of raw materials, including microchips for computers and lithium, which is crucial for electric vehicles, and these have had knock-on effects on prices.
“From an Arab perspective, huge investment in new technology, huge investment in FinTech, making sure that the supply chains are there to be able to deliver on those opportunities is going to be really important,” he said.
Regarding data protection, he said several Arab countries have recently introduced new data protection laws as they have begun to realize its “huge value” and that it needs to be protected.
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