Ongoing Saudi diversification; Aramco, Alphabet to ink pact

Making industrious efforts toward lessening its dependence on hydrocarbons and diversifying its current economic portfolio, Saudi Arabia is exploring potential joint ventures to establish tech hubs in different pockets of the nation.

Working in this direction, Saudi state-owned Aramco, Middle East’s largest oil company, and Alphabet, parent company of US-based technology giant Google, are in talks to set up a massive technology hub, reports New York-based Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The idea is to establish some of the biggest technology hubs and data centers in the Kingdom in the coming months.

Deal in nascent stages

According to reports, this futuristic pact between Aramco and Alphabet is still in nascent stages. As part of the technology hub, various data centers will be created but still it is not revealed that whose data will be kept in those centers and who will be eventually controlling them.

Also the size of the upcoming deal is still not clear. However, many see it as a strong step by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman toward diversifying the nation’s oil-based economy.

Ever since King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud appointed 32-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, the man spearheading the transformation of the Kingdom’s economy, as the Kingdom’s new Crown Prince, most nations and top corporate names are more than eager to rewrite and take their trade relations with Saudi Arabia to a new high. And this potential deal is testimony to this prevailing sentiment.

Massive AI push

Saudi Arabia is also making concerted efforts to utilize artificial intelligence to give a big push to its economy. While Riyadh’s decision to grant AI-powered robot Sophia citizenship created ripples last year, its plan to develop a robot-run utopian megacity on the shores of the Red Sea has caught the world’s attention.

Touted as a $500-billion technological wonder, NEOM — meaning ‘new future’ — will be bigger than Dubai and have a liberal international trade centre, a business hub with advanced manufacturing, biotechnology and media industries.

“It will also present the finest example of machine learning, data mining and cognitive computing. NEOM will have no supermarkets: automation will seamlessly deliver things directly to people’s homes. Besides, a single platform will contain all information even photos, music and details of people’s cars and medical information,” Mohammed Al Murwaan, a Riyadh-based economist, told AMEinfo.

Interestingly, Neom envisions having more robots than humans. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says the city’s main robot will be named “Neom Robot Number One. Everything will have a link with artificial intelligence and IoTs.”

Smart cities; new buzzword

Besides, the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs launched the “application of smart city concepts” early in 2017.

As part of the plan, by 2020, five Saudi cities — Makkah, Riyadh, Jeddah, Madinah and Ahsa — will be equipped with smart buildings and transport systems, smart security and safety services, parks equipped with smart communication systems, smart rain and floods drainage networks and smart economy supportive of small, medium and big companies among others.

Transforming economic fabric

Within Riyadh, the Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Plan are laying out a bold reform agenda to diversify the $647 billion economy into a non-oil one through increased private sector participation, rationalization of subsidies and foreign direct investments (FDI).

Experts also believe the digital transformation will speed up by year-end as the government uses AI and IoT more and more for freight monitoring, smart grid electricity, manufacturing operations, production asset management and remote health monitoring and payments.