It’s Gitex time again, and AI seems to be everywhere. How fast is your business deploying it? Image Credit: Anupam Varma/Gulf News

Dubai: If 2022 was all about ‘clouds’ in the UAE’s tech industry, it’s AI taking the lead – an unsurpassable one – this year when it comes to spending by enterprises. The best part of all this is that the AI spending spree is still only in the first or second gear, with many businesses still lining up plans to make it all happen.

AI will be everywhere and on everyone’s minds, words and action when Gitex 2023 – the Middle East’s biggest tech show – opens. UAE government entities will have a lot more to say obviously, because they have been the early adopters/adapters in bringing AI aspects into their services.

It’s showing up everywhere, and with fairly high levels of sophistication. Last week, the Abu Dhabi healthtech company M42 introduced its version of a Gen AI (that’s ‘Generative AI’ if one needs to be any more specific) platform – the Med42. What it does can be impressive – off short and long-form responses to medical questions. With the promise of speeding up a lot many things in the healthcare delivery side.)

As for UAE businesses, what seems to have slipped as a high priority since Gitex ’22 is their Metaverse adoption plans, with enterprises taking a direct detour into AI investments.

Governments, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are spearheading AI spending through their ‘National AI’ strategies

- Manish Ranjan

Manish Ranjan, the Dubai-based Senior Research Manager for Software, Cloud and IT Services in IDC Mena, said, "These strategic government initiatives fuel additional investments in the holistic development of the AI ecosystem, encompassing skills, capabilities, and exploration of new AI use cases.”

Stock - Careem P2P
Careem has embedded AI features to its super-app that helps with the customer experience Image Credit: Supplied

Who’s investing – and who’s going to win those orders

The Gulf’s AI investment spree is just beginning. Organisations, public and private, have by now already made their commitments into getting ‘smart’ with their digital services. (The whole push into cloud computing is part of that process. In simple terms, it’s about using remote servers to manage client data. Its big business too, with Microsoft, Huawei, Amazon Web Services, Oracle all in play, as is home-grown Khazna with its data centers.)

“Most organizations tend to favour AI solutions from third-party providers rather than developing in-house AI capabilities,” said Ranjan. “It’s worth noting that the region has also seen the emergence of numerous AI companies and startups specializing in industry-specific solutions - or specific AI use cases.”

There will, of course, be more of them.

When that happens, the funding too should follow. Recently, the UAE AI startup Bedu picked up a handy $7 million in pre-seed funding.

“With more funding available from both public and private sector, UAE has all the right infrastructure and environment in place to become the largest hub of AI driven startups,” said Amna Razzaq, Managing Partner and COO at Brandbeat Global.

Automation Survey
According to the consultancy IDC, the Middle East and Africa will likely experience the ‘highest growth’ in AI spending globally, reaching $6.4 billion in 2026.

Not too surprisingly, investments in AI within the Gulf countries are primarily being driven by large. The IDC MEA ‘AI and Automation Survey’ indicates that nearly 35% of large enterprises with more than 500 employees are already investing in AI, while another 50% have plans to do so in the next 12-18 months. In contrast, mid-sized businesses with employees from 250 to 500 exhibit a less mature investment pattern in AI space.

“The UAE is one of the Top 5 countries where companies have adopted to AI or exploring AI - but it is way too low in ranking when it comes to the number of AI startups originated.”

That’s gap that will need filling at some speed.

Early to start with AI

It does seem that Gen AI, ChatGPT, and the halo built around Nvidia as the prime mover-and-shaker in AI computing all happened within the recent past. Trends in tech do tend to happen that way.

Imran Ali Khan is co-founder and CEO of Dubai-headquartered Dubizzle Group, which has multiple listing platforms under its umbrella. That includes Bayut, the property listing portal.

Here’s what Khan has to say about what AI does in his operations – “In 2017, we started developing a new platform with the vision of creating a single-stack solution, scalable across geographies and business categories.

“The new platform’s architecture helped us with the ability to easily develop and deploy new technologies and features,” said Khan, who said the group had a dedicated AI hub starting 2016.

“Some AI-powered features, such as pricing engines and personalized recommendations, were developed on top of existing architecture and deployed everywhere in a very short span of time. More intricate features, such as those requiring scheduled tasks or functionalities that operate in real-time, are more complex.”

And those complex solutions are being created – right here, right now.

Going public

The AI revolution is already visible in the UAE’s stock markets. Bayanat and Presight are part of the G42 universe, and each went on to have successful floats on ADX. What they have provided is give UAE investors – retail and institutional – an early glimpse of what AI-linked services can come up with. Backed by substantial returns too…

All companies Bayanat and Presight have already come onto the investors' radar after successful IPOs. Image Credit: Supplied

Multiple businesses have already deployed their AI integrated services into what they offer. Their customers might not even know this for a fact, but if AI can deliver more – and seamlessly – everyone benefits.

Real-time uses

At a Dubai summit on AI last week, Careem said it’s been using Gen AI to ‘improve’ pricing, routing, ETA (expected time of arrival) estimations and ‘developer productivity’. A top executive at the consultancy PwC reckons that Gen AI will be able to automate a ‘significant part of day-to-day tasks in the next 18-20 months’. That the evolution to ‘Artificial general Intelligence’ is imminent – and not a ‘distant dream’.

Tripler is a property lead generator, whose services bring in a digital layer into an industry that’s heavily reliant on the human factor. This is probably why Sam Singh, founder and CEO, brings on a ‘humanistic’ element to the company’s AI solutions.

Humanistic AI’ aims to understand and predict human behaviour using artificial intelligence

- Sam Singh

“A few iStick AI engines were created from scratch and programmed in-house using our AI experts. It took four months for us to create a program that can ‘read’ humans simply from their voice," said Singh. 

“No other AI software has the ability to read a person’s voice and assess the likelihood of closing a sales transaction. This unique AI capability is not powered by Kai PT, or any of the established indications that many companies are using to call themselves AI.”

The need to deploy some form of AI into business operations is getting clearer. As clear as the need to have the digital smarts.

The ‘how’ to get the AI solutions is what enterprises need to be concentrating their minds on. But waiting on making a decision may not be in their best interests – the AI bandwagon has built up too much speed for that.