As the latest policy piece in the government’s drive to create a knowledge-based economy built on leveraging the newest technologies, the National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy was launched in October 2019. The strategy, developed by the Qatar Computing Research Institute at Hamad bin Khalifa University, is designed to identify economic opportunities and research potential in the burgeoning field of AI. It is based on six pillars: the race for talent, data access, employment, wealth creation, research, and ethics and public policy.

Threats & Benefits

While much of the world’s AI development takes place in the US, the EU and China, officials have underlined the importance of Qatar developing its own capabilities in the field. With AI likely to be embedded in many aspects of life in the near future – a phenomenon known as AI+X – the strategy underscores the fact that many modern jobs, particularly in white-collar professions, may soon become obsolete as a result of automation. This issue is particular pertinent considering that around 25% of Qatari workers were employed in clerical positions in 2018, according to a Labour Force Survey by the Planning and Statistics Authority.

However, the AI strategy notes that the expansion and advancement of this technology will also bring significant opportunities for social development and economic growth. In particular, it highlights improvements in health care, which would enable the country to develop its medical tourism industry; and food security, with improved technology building on sustainable agricultural practices. Technological advancements are also slated to improve the soft infrastructure that underpins the transport and logistics sector, while oil and gas operations stand to benefit from optimisation in exploration, estimation and transmission activities.

ICT Expansion

The launch of the National AI Strategy comes amid significant investment and activity in the broader ICT sector. On the sidelines of the Qatar IT Conference and Exhibition, which took place in Doha from October 29 to November 1, 2019, the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) announced that it will extend a digital accelerator programme to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the country. The programme, which is expected to begin in the first half of 2020, aims to develop SMEs in the fields of AI, augmented reality, virtual reality and the internet of things.

The announcement came at the same time the MoTC signed a memorandum of understanding with German IT company TÜViT to set up the GCC’s first security technology lab in Qatar. The lab, whose first phase was operational at the end of 2019, will test security products for functionality and vet ICT products, forming part of the country’s efforts to bolster cybersecurity capabilities.

Another major development in ICT occurred in May 2018, when the Doha-headquartered telecoms provider Ooredoo rolled out the first stage of its 5G Supernet network in the capital, considered the first commercial application of the technology in the world. By the end of 2019, 5G coverage had been extended to 70% of the capital (see overview). The new network is slated to support multiple devices across households, government and the private sector, including AI-enabled applications, which will fuel the government’s goal of increasing their use in all areas of the economy.

Economic Diversification

Investments in AI and ICT align with broader plans to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbons. Launched in 2008, Qatar National Vision 2030 aims to transform the country into a knowledge-driven economy, with significant emphasis placed on digital engagement. To lead by example, officials are working to digitise 100% of state services and optimise all daily operations of the public sector with the help of technology.