Economies across the Middle East are bracing for the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on their economies.
PwC said in a report released earlier this year that the technology could add $320bn on the regional economy, with the Gulf countries taking the lion’s share.
The UAE is expected to see AI contribute 13.6 per cent of GDP or $96bn by 2030, Saudi Arabia 12.4 per cent or $135.2bn and Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar 8.2 per cent or a combined $45.9bn.
The message is simple, by embracing AI regional countries have a lot to gain in terms of productivity, consumption and product enhancements.
But in other areas there is some to lose.
For expat workers in the region in particular, AI is going to present its own challenges.
A study released by consultancy McKinsey and Company in February found that 45 per cent of jobs in the Middle East were technically automatable today, translating into 20.8 million full-time employees and $366.6bn in wage income.
In particular workers in sectors like manufacturing, transport and warehousing, where routine tasks are the norm, are most at risk of being replaced by AI.
While those involving tasks with human interaction like the arts, entertainment, recreation, healthcare and education can breathe easier with a lower automation potential ranging from 29-37 per cent.
In the UAE and wider Gulf, this meant 93 per cent of automation potential was estimated to lie with jobs held by expat workers.
“For countries such as the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, the projected proportion of work, and by extension workers, displaced is higher than the projected global average,” said Jan Peter Moore, associate partner at McKinsey & Company.
“This means workers in these countries will need to evolve to adapt to global forces of workforce automation and technological progress more rapidly than other countries in the region.”
Another study released by PwC consulting unit Strategy& in October last year found that 91 per cent of citizens in Kuwait, 83 per cent in the UAE, 80 per cent in Saudi Arabia and 66 per cent in Bahrain were employed in sectors at high risk of disruption by new technologies, meaning they too may not escape the disruption of artificial intelligence.
But it may not be all bad news.
While AI and other new technologies are expected to eliminate past jobs roles, they are also expected to create new ones.
Strategy& said by working together with technology partners, educational institutions, the private sector and entrepreneurs, GCC governments could help promote digital skills that are more resilient to disruption.
This in turn could mean roles with more flexible working hours and provide more opportunities to women and young people.
“The growth of such jobs will help nationals move from largely administrative jobs in the government sector to higher-value-added roles in industries with future importance,” the company noted.
“If, by 2025, the region reaches the same proportion of digital employment that the EU has today, then approximately 1.3 million new digital jobs could be created, including more than 700,000 in Saudi Arabia alone.”
This perspective adds to a report released by the World Economic Forum earlier this month, which found that while automation could displace 75 million jobs globally by 2022 it could also create 133 million new ones, while freeing up workers from monotonous tasks.
“We believe that a people-centric approach to AI can extend the capabilities of individuals and organisations around the globe, freeing them up for more creative and entrepreneurial exploits, and helping them achieve more,” said Necip Ozyucel, director of Cloud and Enterprise at Microsoft Gulf .
“Countries in the region will enjoy growth if AI and automation are well embraced, and the workforce is equipped with the right skills to take advantage of this transformation.”
And he believes the region is waking up to the benefits of artificial intelligence, following a survey conducted by the International Quality and Productivity Centre earlier this year, which found 95 per cent of respondents thought AI would have a positive impact on economies.
“It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever. Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.”
Clearly AI will disrupt the job market in the Gulf region but it could also mean good things for workers if handled correctly.