Saudi Arabia goes from tech adopter to innovator

Led by visionary leadership and a progressive government, Saudi Arabia is harnessing the power of technology to create a brighter future for its people and the Gulf region.

In a global climate of economic turmoil and geopolitical tension, the Kingdom’s economic resources and government commitment to technology is driving socio-economic prosperity at an unprecedented scale for the region.

Progressing at an impressive rate, Saudi Arabia is rapidly embracing a dynamic new era driven by cutting-edge technology. While progress may be steady elsewhere in the world, this rising Middle Eastern nation promises to lead the way into what could prove to be a remarkable period of technological discovery and development.

The LEAP conference in Riyadh was testament to that. The event brought together over 300,000 attendees, hundreds of next-generation tech companies and thousands of tech-focused investors and government funds from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, the US, Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. The event has set a new record for success and demonstrated Saudi Arabia's leadership in tech-driven development. LEAP is far more than just an unparalleled global gathering; its success reveals powerful trends in the tech and investment landscape.

Examining the cutting-edge developments in technology, one can't help but be curious about what will next define our global landscape. From AI to DeepTech and beyond, there are no bounds to innovation's potential. While the US and the West are moving forward into the future at a standard, linear rate, China and Asia are driving technological progress at an accelerated pace, and the Gulf is moving forward at double speed.

Speaking with Saudi citizens and government officials at LEAP, one gets a tangible feeling of their passion and the authenticity of their steadfast belief that they are forging a practical and realistic path to the future, united as a nation for a more prosperous and progressive tomorrow. They were there to demonstrate how Saudi Vision 2030 is actually being implemented on the ground, and to prove that the vision is about the present as much as it is about the future.

Many economists and technology experts consider the Kingdom’s megaprojects such as NEOM and The Line too futuristic at best and unattainable dreams at worst. But if one takes into account both technologies at hand and those that are projected to reach market-readiness in three, five or seven years from now, the Kingdom’s entire 2030 vision seems definitively realistic to any expert familiar with data-driven technological forecasting. This is true not only for Saudi Arabia, but also for many other GCC megaprojects, which were abundantly represented at LEAP.

What strikes me the most about Saudi Vision 2030 compared to similar outlooks in other parts of the world is the unique balance between vision, strategy, tactics and implementation. Many existing tech-driven national development plans are characterised either by an insufficiently progressive vision and strategy, or inadequate tactics, lack of responsible governance, and clear gaps in implementation.

The hardest part for any government, investment fund or organisation operating in the true frontier of DeepTech is not only achieving a sufficient state of technological advancement in terms of their ambitions. It is also about executing that vision with a pragmatic and decisive action plan based on tech-powered forecasting.

LEAP was an excellent showcase of this balance between strategy and execution. It was a tangible proof of progress towards the implementation of national development mega plans, enabling the Kingdom to set the standard for other nations to follow.

What sets Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries apart is not necessarily the scale of funds they have committed, but the depth and breadth of their commitment to technological progress as the main driver of socio-economic development, stability and prosperity. The Kingdom's precision, decisiveness, and care in achieving an optimal balance between vision and action is what matters most.

With a high density of large corporations venturing into AI and advanced technologies, the conference also paints a positive picture for the future of DeepTech industrialization.

DeepTech will be the new normal for the tech industry in the years to come. The large number of large-scale investors including institutional investors and sovereign wealth funds already started partaking in DeepTech investments. Historically, investment in advanced next-generation technologies was driven primarily by venture capital or in many cases by specialised government programs such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the US. The Gulf and other emerging economies will soon witness a new landscape of mature private equity and big institutional investors who will gradually become the new vanguards of advanced technology financing.

This trend is expected to materialise before the year 2030, driving an influx of multi-billion-dollar capital to support the development of DeepTech industrialization to scale. These developments will inevitably attract the most talented engineers, entrepreneurs and experts in DeepTech, creating even more industrial stability, value, investability and progress in the Gulf region.