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4th Industrial Revolution forum in Saudi Arabia brings together innovators, pioneers

RIYADH: A second Fourth Industrial Revolution forum in Saudi Arabia, with the theme “Fostering Innovation Through Collective Impact for Sustainable Development,” was held at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology on Monday.

The event was organized by the Saudi Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is affiliated with the World Economic Forum.

Center officials invited their international network of partners to discuss urgent challenges and game-changing opportunities in innovation, global integration, and public-private partnerships.  

Organizers said the event showcased how Saudi Arabia had rapidly become a global leader in new technology.

WEF president, Borge Brende, told the forum how collaboration between the public and private sectors was vital in developing policies that enabled innovation to thrive responsibly.

He said: “The world is now at the halfway point in the 2030 agenda, but just 12 percent of the sustainable development goals are on track.

“There is an opportunity here because we know that innovation can be an important accelerator for the sustainable development goals.”

Brende added that two-thirds of the SDGs could be bolstered by technological innovation and that Saudi Arabia was at the forefront of unlocking the potential.

He noted that since the last forum in 2021, the Kingdom had continued to pioneer innovation and technology in the region and globally as part of its Vision 2030 reform plan.

“Only by having leaders from business and government work together can we maximize the benefit and reduce the risk of threats, and today’s event is a testament that we see this partnership taking place.

“The World Economic Forum remains committed to the ambition of Saudi Arabia. I hope you leverage the discussion today to mobilize action for sustainable and positive impact for us all in line with this ambition,” Brende added.

During his opening speech, Munir Eldesouki, the president of KACST, said the Fourth Industrial Revolution was aiming to blend the physical, digital, and biological worlds and change the very fabric of life.

He added that emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence or quantum computing had changed the world’s perception of possible opportunities and threats. 

Eldesouki pointed out that while milestones should be celebrated, people must remain aware of the challenges of disruptive innovations.

He said: “Balancing the vast technological landscape with ethics, governance, and security is our shared responsibility and this mission poses technology as it serves our people, our values, and our future.

“Our collaborations span the globe with focus areas that truly echo Vision 2030 in AI, urban transformation, data policy, and more.”

Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Al-Khorayef discussed accelerating the transformation and growth of manufacturing in Saudi Arabia in a session moderated by Basma Al-Buhairan, the managing director of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

On what governments could do to accelerate innovation and technology, Al-Khorayef said: “We are definitely financing and investing in innovation and advanced manufacturing.

“On top of this, there are grants that we are offering to certain activities that fit particular criteria in the overall ecosystem in the industrial sector and mining, logistics, and energy.”

Meanwhile, space industry experts discussed global partnerships promoting innovation.

Rayyanah Barnawi, a biomedical researcher and the first female Saudi astronaut, said she was selected to conduct research on the International Space Station almost a year ago. 

“With the ambition of the Saudi space agency and its global partnerships, we were able to conduct a historical mission in space. And to me, now I can see that the future is very bright, and the opportunities are endless for pharmaceutical and technological advancements,” she added.

She pointed out that conducting such experiments in space in a specific environment unavailable on Earth was more effective and beneficial.

“A microgravity environment provides more accessibility to the cells we’re working with. Here on Earth, we work with cells in 2-D, but in space, we can observe the cells as they exist in 3-D. 

“For that reason, we were able to generate or produce treatment options that are not available here on Earth, as we can study these cells through technologies in a better condition and less contaminated environment,” Barnawi said.

Noor Nugali, assistant editor-in-chief at Arab News, discussed the role of women in innovation with Dr. Einas Al-Eisa, president at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University.

Al-Eisa claimed her institution was the largest women’s university in the world, both in size and the number of students and programs it offered, especially within its five health colleges.

“Currently, within the university, 25 percent of our academic community, both staff and students, are in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) colleges, with 15 percent of our students being in health disciplines,” she said.

“It may be surprising for some to know that gender diversity contributes to more novel and highly cited research publications. In a report published by BCG (the Boston Consulting Group), companies with more diverse leadership teams produce more significant innovation revenue.”

On the forum’s sidelines, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Saudi Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Ministry of Transport and Logistics Services.

The MoU aims to promote cooperation by developing policies for managing Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies in the transportation and logistics sector.

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