Q&A: How Bahrain plans to be a regional AI leader

Jassim Haji, president of the Artificial Intelligence Society of Bahrain, outlines Bahrain's digital transformation journey, and why he thinks the Kingdom is ideally positioned to become a regional leader in AI.

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The small Kingdom of Bahrain has made some big advances in technology in the past few years. The nation's GDP has nearly quadrupled since 2000 as it seeks to diversify its traditionally oil-based economy, and while only 5% of the population had access to the internet 20 years ago, Bahrain reports 98 percent internet penetration today.  As the nation makes headway in realizing its vision of a "smart" Bahrain, private and public entities alike have continued to invest in emerging technologies.

Much of Bahrain's success in digital transformation is the result of robust government-supported initiatives. In line with the government's overarching Digital Strategy 2022, central authorities such as the Information and eGovernment Authority, Tamkeen (a public authority engaged in modernizing the labour market), the Central Bank of Bahrain, and the Economic Development Board have all launched initiatives with the aim of bolstering local development of artificial intelligence technologies, robotics, and biotechnology.

Major cloud providers have recently expanded their footprints in the Middle East, including Amazon Web Services' 2019 launch of the company's first MENA "region" headquartered in Bahrain. With this growing investment from international technology giants comes expanded educational opportunities for IT professionals and university students alike. In September last year, Tamkeen joined forces with the Microsoft Corporation and Bahrain Polytechnic College to establish Bahrain's Artificial Intelligence Academy and subsequently saw 60 trainees begin courses.

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