How Leap is positioning Saudi Arabia as a technology hub
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How LEAP is positioning Saudi Arabia as a technology hub

How LEAP is positioning Saudi Arabia as a technology hub

Public and private sector enterprises are setting standards for digital excellence with the support of events such as LEAP2023

Gulf Business

To boost the economy of Saudi Arabia, the government is redeveloping the digital infrastructure of the country.

Future-focused public and private sector organisations are setting the standard for digital excellence with the support of events such as LEAP 2023, leading the way in delivering innovative products, solutions and services.

LEAP23, the technology event in Saudi Arabia, kicked off its four-day run in Riyadh from February 6-9.

With 172,000 attendees this year, the event set new benchmarks, becoming the world’s largest technology event by attendance, according to its organisers.

Powered by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) in conjunction with Tahaluf – a strategic joint venture co-owned by Informa and Saudi Federation for Cyber Security
and Programming (SAFCSP) – LEAP23 presented an exhibitor line-up with advanced technology capabilities as well as entrepreneurs, business magnate, sports icon and musical icon turned futurist and financier.

More than 300,000 visitors from over 100 countries registered for the event. It also welcomed a high-profile faculty of 1,000 global investors.

Latest announcements
With on-event transactions exceeding $9bn – a 32 per cent year-on-year increase on the $6.8bn in deals announced in 2022 – LEAP23 injected fresh foreign direct investment impetus into Saudi Arabia’s rapidly evolving digital ecosystems and startup economy.

This year’s major announcements included mega infrastructure investments, multiple new data centres nationwide and new academies to foster and upskill homegrown talent. The investments were revealed by Engineer Abdullah bin Amer Alswaha, Minister of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), during his keynote speech on day one.

The investments include Microsoft’s $2.1bn in a global super-scaler cloud, Oracle’s $1.5bn expansion of its MENA business through the launch of a new cloud region, Huawei’s $400m investment in cloud infrastructure and Zoom’s partnership with Aramco to launch a Zoom cloud area in the kingdom.

An additional $4.5bn has been invested in global and local assets across multiple sectors. Another series of announcements, which equate to $580m, were also announced on day three.

Ignite – a programme under Saudi’s Digital Content Council – launched several initiatives and investments amounting to $170m.

Technology consulting services company Wipro announced $110m in investment towards expanding its cloud studio service, developing digital healthcare solutions and fostering local talent.

The global games development platform Unity also announced the creation of its first regional academy and a centre for developing electronic games – in partnership with MCIT.

In addition, Zoho, a software development and cloud computing company, announced plans to expand its operations in the kingdom, opening new offices and establishing a cloud area for its services. A $300m
portfolio balance will also be allocated by the company for Saudi startups to aid their digital transformation over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, DAMAC Group, a UAE-based property development company, announced the expansion of data centres in the kingdom with a capacity of over 55 megawatts.

Furthermore, Amazon established its first regional academy to develop and train more than 30,000 talents. The academy will offer over 35,000 professional certifications in cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Among other key announcements were Meta’s opening of the first Metaverse Academy in MENA, WEO Technology and Camel Lab’s launch of Hektar, a social media app with a variety of content, and MENA Communication and STC’s launch of Beem – an instant messaging, video and voice communication application with business features.

DeepFest – robots and avatars take centre-stage 
The inaugural DeepFest, held alongside LEAP in partnership with the Saudi Data & AI Authority (SDAIA), brought together the global artificial intelligence ecosystem’s leaders to unveil multi-sector initiatives via a thought leadership conference and sector-specific tracks, training, live demonstrations, startup pitches, as well as a showcase of companies transforming the world around them.

Themed ‘AI Beyond Imagination’, DeepFest witnessed thought leaders, change-makers, data scientists, innovators, enterprises, academia, startups and business entrepreneurs unveil government AI initiatives and
multi-sector innovations.

In addition, the conference programme focused on tracks for cleantech, the metaverse and women in technology, while the DeepFest exhibition featured some of the top tech companies.

At the event, roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro delivered a session titled ‘Avatar and the Future Society’. Ishiguro, the director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory – part of the Department of Systems Innovation in the Graduate School of Engineering Science at Japan’s Osaka University – has been pioneering advancements in humanlike robotics since 1997.

For over 15 years, he has also been creating realistic androids, including Geminoid HI-1, the roboticist’s virtual twin (see top left) who appeared with him at DeepFest.

Ishiguro, who has spent his career dissecting what it means to be human, explained how advances in robotics and avatars are reducing the gap between humans and humanoids.

“By 2050, we want to realise a society in which people are free from the constraints of the body, brain, space, and time. The technology is being developed already; with our automated robotic tech, we can create avatars that anyone can use easily. I believe we can create avatars that will allow anyone – from children to the elderly and everyone in between – to play an active role in society. With avatars, I believe we can change the world. We can choose to work, study, and socialise with real-life robotic or computer graphic (CG) avatars. Many companies in Japan are already using CG avatars for customer service – not in place of
humans, but with humans controlling their own avatars. In Japan, we have an ageing population problem, and we need to find solutions that allow people to work – this can be solved by using avatars and advanced robotic technology,” said Ishiguro.

Other sessions included Neural-Symbolic AI Driving Progress Toward Artificial General Intelligence with Dr Benjamin Goertzel, CEO of the SingulaityNET Foundation; Generative AI Revolution with Leonid Zhukov, Director of Boston Consulting Group’s Global AI Institute; How Technology is Inspiring the Future Workforce with Beverly Rider, CCO of Tonomous and CEO of Tonomous VentureStudio, and more.

Tech-driven future vision
LEAP23 witnessed a stellar line-up of more than 700 speakers across 11 conferences. Tech entrepreneur, futurist, and founder and CEO of FYI (William Adams) laid out his vision for a connected and creative future. was an equity stakeholder in Beats Electronics, which was eventually acquired by Apple for $3bn in 2014. The next contribution he has made to the tech industry is FYI, a Web3 messenger for creative enterprise, productivity and collaboration.

Meanwhile, Borje Ekholm, CEO of Ericsson, discussed the importance of 5G technology, digital infrastructure and the development of Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s leading tech-driven nations.

“A prerequisite of digitalisation is a digital infrastructure – a country without roads is terribly unlikely to have an automotive industry,” said Ekholm. “Roads you can see, whereas digital highways you cannot. As a person, you cannot see when it is congested in the digital world. When your phone doesn’t connect, it’s typically congestion.”

Moreover, Rao, an American student, author and STEM promoter, has already  developed a number of patented innovations, including a snake bite diagnostic software, a lead detector for drinking water, a digital AI service to stop cyberbullying, and an electrically charged pollen screen to prevent allergy symptoms.

She outlined her “five-step innovation process that normalises failure” – observe, brainstorm, research, build and communicate.

Having shared the process with children, as part of an innovation movement in the USA, Kenya, Afghanistan, India, Nepal and the UAE, among others, Rao presented it in front of a packed-out conference.

“Observe: identify a problem in your community that you are passionate about,” she said. “Secondly, brainstorm: Come up with a list of solutions and focus on quantity over quality – it’s always important to come
up with as many solutions as possible. Third: Research, which is when you narrow down that list of solutions to one or two. Next, build them and bring them to life. And finally – the most important and underrated step – communicate. Post about ideas and leverage the power of social media. Get feedback and ask questions to improve.”

AM3E – a global initiative 
In line with its mission to empower entrepreneurs, ignite innovation and progress into new worlds, LEAP23 launched the Alliance for Metaverse and Web3 Empowerment (AM3E).

The initiative’s core objective is to establish a set of principles that digital builders can use to ensure their products and services are safe and fair. It will seek to identify, address and resolve challenges which pawned from the evolution and devolution of the Web2 world.

Comprising pioneers, innovators and industry champions, AM3E assembled individuals, companies and organisations accelerating the metaverse. The founding AM3E working group explored how a unified set of core principles can best serve creators, builders, businesses, and users, defining how the world interacts with the opportunity-laden cyberspace of the 21st century.

LEAP24 – the future ahead
An annual event that brings together the world’s most important tech experts, LEAP is rapidly evolving into a global tech movement.

Organisers of the event have revealed that the following year’s edition will run from March 4-7, 2024, and will move to a new venue to ensure the platform continues to accelerate the kingdom’s digital transformation.

LEAP24 will transition to a 120,000 square metre capacity venue next year, enabling the third event to double in floor size and cater for even more innovative future technologies, digital entrepreneurs, tech startups and guest speakers.

Meanwhile, during the closing remarks of LEAP23, Michael Champion, regional EVP, MEA at Informa Markets, said: “There is no limit to the ambition of this event or this nation. While the on-event investment
announcements are truly unprecedented, the legacy of this year’s show will extend further and deeper than anyone can truly comprehend.

“There are 380,000 technology professionals currently working in Silicon Valley – the world’s tech capital – and there are 340,000 employed in Saudi’s technology industry. We are still only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and when we consider that technology investment, adoption, innovation, and entrepreneurship are key pillars in the kingdom’s ambitious economic diversification strategy, the potential for LEAP to power Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation and galvanise growth across the international technology arena is unlimited.”

Read: Saudi’s LEAP23 bags honour of world’s largest tech event based on visits

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