AI plans are heating up in the Middle East as CONTEXT expands its presence

AI plans are heating up in the Middle East as CONTEXT expands its presence

AI plans are heating up in the Middle East as CONTEXT expands its presence

It’s an exciting time to be working in IT in the Middle East. Ramadan might be over for another year, but the region is still buzzing with corporate activity. As elsewhere in the world, all the talk at the moment is focused on AI – with both the UAE and Saudi Arabia committed to making their ambitious state–led plans a reality. 

As the region becomes an increasingly important part of the global IT channel, CONTEXT is making its own investments, with the imminent launch of our very first Middle East distribution panel. It marks an exciting new stage in our growth as a company and the value we’re able to provide for the channel community.

A new era of AI development

The UAE is further along with its AI roadmap. The Technology Innovation Institute (TII) – the government–funded applied research arm of the Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC) in Abu Dhabi – has promised $300m towards R&D in the space. It’s going to fund nonprofit the Falcon Foundation, to oversee development of its Falcon Large Language Model (LLM).

The model has already garnered impressive results. The latest version, Falcon 180B, was launched last September to much acclaim. It outranked and outperformed rival offerings from Meta and Google on the Hugging Face Leaderboard – a major feat, which has certainly forced the global AI community to sit up and take notice.

The UAE could push on to become a serious world leader in AI for several reasons:

  • It has the compute power and the energy that power–hungry chips and systems need to keep running.
  • It has the funding, thanks to continued oil revenues.
  • It has access to a wealth of sensitive data including records held by hospitals and state–backed industries.

It’s rare to find all of these attributes in one place. Many Western countries are struggling with government budget deficits and more rigorous privacy regimes, for example. But what the UAE is missing is top talent. That’s why the focus continues to be on open source. Omar Al Olama, the UAE’s AI minister, believes that top scientists in the space are more likely to be enthused to work for a project that has a chance to change people’s lives for good, rather than fil the pockets of private enterprise.

The strategy seems to be working, as the number of AI workers in the UAE quadrupled between 2021 and 2023, to reach 120,000. However, there are still challenges. The country is still not ranked in the top six globally in terms of the number of elite AI researchers working there, and human rights concerns persist.

The UAE must also face new competition from close to home. According to reports, Saudi Arabia is mounting its own AI push – and the funding promised could dwarf that of its near neighbour. It’s said that Riyadh is prepared to plough $40bn into the technology, in a partnership with US VC leader Andreessen Horowitz. That would not only tower over the UAE’s efforts, but also the sums typically raised by US VC firms. The rumours are that the Saudi plans will take off in the second half of 2024.

Expanding our insight in the region

This impressive momentum is part of the reason why CONTEXT is expanding its presence, and insight, in the region. We recently hosted a fascinating Channel Forum event in Istanbul, welcoming over 70 attendees from the industry to the historic Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus, to cover everything from AI to sustainability – and the country’s economic prospects.

Going forward, CONTEXT is delighted to announce its first Middle East distribution panel. We’re already receiving data from almost a dozen of the biggest players in the region, and more are being added all the time. It will give us unprecedented visibility into this fast–growing IT channel market – with the first beta reports set to be shared with participating distributors this month.

To learn more about CONTEXT’s initiatives and insights from the summit, visit the CONTEXT MEA LinkedIn page.

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