Bahrain’s EDB chief: If data is the new oil, then China is the new Saudi Arabia


If data is the new oil, then China is the new Saudi Arabia, Chief Executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board Khalid al-Rumaihi said at the World Economic Forum on Sunday, adding that China has the scale to be able to mine data in a way that “no other region in the world can.”

In a session titled ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Arab World’ moderated by Al Arabiya’s Lara Habib, al-Rumaihi said that it would be “detrimental” to the Middle East “if we ignore what technology has to offer.”

The session featured Omar Sultan al-Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence in the UAE, Mudassir Sheikha, the co-founder and managing director of Careem, Murat Sonmez, the managing director of the World Economic Forum, Wafa Ben-Hassine, the MENA Policy Counsel for Access Now, and Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

When asked about the challenges facing the rise of new technologies and embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, al-Olama said that the quality of the data collected will allow governments to compute it in the right manner and develop the right policies.

“We’ve launched a REG LAB in the UAE to test regulations and policies on six month bases across the whole country, which allows us to test the technology, test the policy, see the impact, and then determine if we want to really change the legislation process in the UAE to be more welcoming or restrictive for that technology,” al-Olama said.

For her part, Ben-Hassine said that the young population in the Arab world who are tech savvy and well-connected make the region at the helm of these technologies. She added that government policies that support a range of innovations including machine learning or providing e-government services need to adopt a user-centered framework.

However, Careem’s Sheikha disagreed, stating that the region has “largely missed out”.

“The quality of life that we have given our people is not at the same level as Europe or the US or other parts of the world did. We have massive unemployment, we have crumbling infrastructure- we really have a lot of catch-up to do,” Sheikha said.

“The way that I view the Fourth Industrial Revolution is an opportunity for us to leapfrog into the digital future and this is our opportunity to actually build that infrastructure, build the systems that took some of the developed world decades and decades to build, and we can do it much faster,” he added.

Sheikha pointed out that technology and automation is usually known for reducing jobs, but that platforms like Careem have proven that they can actually create a lot of jobs.

Al-Olama added that individuals and governments need to be agile with new technologies.

“We understand that the new industrial revolution is focused on two things: quality data and to compute. If we have the ecosystem that gives any company that wants to work in that space, we are going to become the leaders,” he said.

The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (WEF) is set to enable dialogue about several regional challenges with the theme of an Arab fourth industrial revolution.

The forum, kicking off on Saturday in Jordan’s Dead Sea region, will convene over 1,000 key leaders from government, business, and civil society, attempting to enable collaboration on the most pressing challenges facing the Arab World.

The meeting aims to provide a collaborative platform for generating progress on the regional agenda for inclusive growth, social advancement, and sustainable development.

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