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Oman eyes accelerated AI deployment in key economic sectors

Dr Ali al Shidhani
Dr Ali al Shidhani

MUSCAT: Oman’s National Programme for Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Technologies prioritises the deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in driving the development of key economic sectors, such as tourism, logistics and mining, according to a top government official overseeing the delivery of this strategy.

Dr Ali al Shidhani, Under-Secretary for Communications and Information Technology at the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, said the AI action plan, first unveiled in August 2022, seeks to secure a place for the Sultanate of Oman among the world’s top 40 AI-ready countries within two years.

“One target we have set for 2025, is to improve Oman's ranking in the Global Al Readiness Index,” said Dr Al Shidhani.

“We are today ranked 53rd out of 180 countries. We want to be in the top 40 by 2025. Other KPIs are: to increase Al investments in the country, increase the number of startups in Al, and stimulate research and innovation in Al by increasing the number of papers and patents.”

Speaking to Gulf Intelligence (GI), a leading Dubai-based think-tank, the official explained that the AI programme is based on four pillar. While the first pillar calls for the accelerated deployment of AI in the economic sectors, Pillar 2 focuses on strategic sectors, such as health and education. Capacity building is the dominant goal of Pillar 3, while Pillar 4 centres on governance.

Citing an example of the successful use of AI, Dr Al Shidhani said the technology had been deployed during the recent elections to predict voter turnout based on age, sex and location. Classified data for the exercise was sourced from historical records held by the Interior Ministry as the custodian of the electoral process, he said.

But he acknowledged that data management in AI schemes can have its share of challenges. “One reality is that the flow of data never stops. Another is that data ownership is scattered, so getting it all aligned is not simple. A third challenge is that there are so many terminologies being used - Big Data, Open Data etc. - and sometimes the real meaning gets lost in translation. So, working towards a mutual understanding of what we are talking about is very, very important,” the Under-Secretary noted.

Oman’s AI strategy, according to the official, is one of eight executive programems envisioned as part of the broader National Digital Economy Program. They include: digital government; cybersecurity; e-commerce; digital infrastructure; space; the digital industry programme which focuses on attracting international digital investments and nurturing start-ups in the country; and the fintech programme. Together, they will drive a fivefold growth in the digital economy’s contribution to the GDP in the coming years, he added.

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