Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, it is my pleasure and privilege to join you today.
Let me start by thanking the Saudi Data and AI Authority for hosting this conference. I also want to thank Their Excellencies Abdullah Swaha and Dr Abdullah bin Sharaf AlGhamdi, for everything they have done to put Saudi AI on the map.
Ladies and gentlemen, today Saudi Arabia is attracting record start-up investment.
We are building the world’s first cognitive city at NEOM.
We have a young, digitally-native population, and the fastest growth among G20 economies.
So this event could not be more timely. As everyone knows, our world has seen profound, technology-led change in a very short space of time.
That change is accelerating.
It took landline telephones 75 years to reach 100 million users. Smartphones passed the 1 billion mark in just 15.
In the last 10 years we have seen the rise of machine learning, autonomous vehicles, the Internet-of-Things, and now the world’s first quantum computers. A mass disruption of existing business models is clearly underway.
So when I think about the AI revolution, I think about the role it could and should play in the future of business. But a major challenge is that many companies are still struggling to ‘get it right’ – and this is the key issue that I want to address today.
Businesses have always recorded data. But in the past only a fraction of it could be properly analyzed and actioned.
Today, by contrast, we are drowning in data!
Thanks to the Cloud, the cost of computing and storage has dropped. And for the first time, much of our data is machine readable. We now have a huge opportunity to extract more value from that data.
And the greatest potential comes from the application of AI to non-routine cognitive tasks. That said, any significant investment in technology or AI needs to make a business more profitable and more successful.
And even as technology transforms the way we operate, it is vital to recognize that the role and purpose of AI is to complement human judgement, not to replace it.
So in my view, a key priority of business today should be to identify the optimum mix of human and machine capabilities.
I am proud that we are an industry leader in digital maturity. And based on that experience, I know that the digital transformation of large organizations cannot be achieved by IT or DT units alone.
From leadership to professionals, operations to support units, the entire ecosystem has to be on the same journey.
Let me be clear: this is not just a question of hiring more data scientists. One of the distinctive features of digital transformation is that it has to be led from the top. That means strong and perceptive leaders setting clear ambitions and guiding their team in new directions.
It also means having a strategy, not just a series of pilots and initiatives.
In Aramco’s case, this is why we created a digital transformation organization led by a Chief Digital Officer: to give this agenda the focus it deserves. And it means leaders and managers who can challenge themselves to be digitally savvy.
This is not always easy, especially for those who started their careers before the rise of the Internet. But it is something I am working on!
In fact, at Aramco we are sending our executives on digital deep dive programs – to keep them ahead of the curve. One issue that should be of concern to any leader is the potential for job destruction.
It has been estimated that as many as 800 million workers worldwide could be displaced by automation by 2030. And unlike in previous technology revolutions, those displaced today could face far more challenging job prospects.
So we need to be prepared.
Our workforce needs practical options for lifelong learning, recognizing that AI can compute beyond the limits of human capacity, and our schools and colleges need to be proactive about the changing shape of work.
Another emerging challenge is cyber-security. Cyber-attacks are one of the top risks we face at Aramco – on a par with natural disasters or physical attacks.
But while these attacks are growing in scale and severity, AI is helping fend off some of the threat. So our efforts should not only focus on greater efficiency or deeper customer insights, but also on security and resilience.
At Aramco, we have been on our AI journey for several years now.
Across the business, hundreds of employees have enrolled in AI-related courses, including machine learning and data engineering. We are also sending our employees on master’s degree programs in AI. And our broader AI strategy is starting to pay off.
For example, we now use AI to model the Kingdom’s geology. Before AI, it took months to update a detailed model of subsurface formations. Now Aramco is using deep learning techniques to achieve the same result in minutes.
We have deployed machine learning techniques to predict and prevent safety hazards, monitor emissions, avoid breakdowns, optimize energy use, and predict potential cyber-threats.
These AI-powered systems are saving us time and money. And ultimately improving our ability to reliably supply energy to our customers.
So where next?
Higher levels of data processing and AI-powered analytics could be an important part of our comprehensive emissions reduction and sustainability programs. And looking further ahead, there is great excitement about quantum computing.
For instance, it has been suggested that a quantum computer could analyze millions of chemical compounds to find the optimal solution for capturing CO2.
This is early-stage technology. But we want to understand it better. So, we are now working on establishing Aramco’s first quantum machine learning research program.
And like all the most powerful digital technologies, we are stronger when we act as a network. This is why a central part of our strategy is helping to build a thriving AI ecosystem in Saudi Arabia.
This work includes partnerships with companies like Cognite and Google Cloud, our joint venture with Raytheon on cybersecurity, our new Lab7 enterprise space, and collaborating with KAUST on their AI Center of Excellence.
But we want to go further.
So today I am proud to announce a new strategic project that we are calling the “Aramco Global AI Corridor”.
The Corridor is designed to develop and commercialize complex AI solutions, train Saudi talent, support Saudi start-ups and, together with global partners, build a local AI ecosystem. This will include:
- An AI Delivery Factory
- an AI Academy
- An AI Venturing Studio
- and unique AI R&D labs.
We are in the early stages, but this demonstrates the level of our ambitions. And we are working with Caltech and one of their spin-outs Beyond Limits, as we explore this opportunity.
AI is already a game changer. Now, with the metaverse, we are about to step into the game.
The technology is maturing. The opportunities are growing exponentially. AI needs to be entrenched in new businesses from the start. SMEs must be ready to adapt.
If we get this right and invest wisely, we can optimize our industries, unlock new efficiencies, and unleash a new era of growth and transformation in Saudi Arabia.
We are already an energy leader. We can be an AI leader too, explorers, producers and exporters of immensely powerful ideas and innovation.
Empowering AI opportunities for the Kingdom and the world.