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©KAUST 2023; Dalya Mohammed Alshahrani

AI takes technology to the people

Thousands of people across Saudi Arabia are learning about a range of advanced technologies through the opportunity provided by the KAUST Academy.

Training a range of people, from undergraduates to CEOs, the KAUST Academy is delivering expertise in advanced technologies across Saudi Arabia. The Academy aims to boost the country’s economic and technological development through raising the level of scientific and technical knowledge.

“The Academy is taking KAUST to the Kingdom and delivering education in an accessible way that helps participants acquire new technical skills,” says Academy Director Sultan Albarakati.

“Our goal is to reach out and contribute to the growth of the country’s rapidly transforming economy and help the workforce meet the demands of Vision 2030 and Vision 2050.”

Launched in May 2022, the academy has trained more than 2,000 people in its first 12 months. Training ranges from short five-day bootcamps to tailored master’s degrees, supported by senior faculty as well as partners in industry, government and business. The camps are run during college holidays in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province.

Naeemullah Khan (right) teaching during one of the AI bootcamps in Riyadh. KAUST Academy aims to train people in AI across Saudi Arabia. ©KAUST 2023; Mishaal K. Almubarak

The AI bootcamp, designed for undergraduates, has already been completed by 1,000 students. “The bootcamp gives them an opportunity to acquire the basic skills they need to apply machine learning and deep-learning techniques for solving problems,” explains Alexandra A. Gomes, who teaches mathematics.

The students embrace the mixture of theory and practical sessions. Ahmed Almohammed, a student at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, has completed the introductory and advanced AI bootcamps and says the training has been invaluable. “I was very impressed with the overall courses where we spent hours together learning the theory and then implementing it in practical workshops with the other students, thus allowing us to share our knowledge and learn from each other.”

Hassain Alsayhah, also from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, appreciated the collaborative nature of the course. “The course was delivered in a way that helped our understanding of the material, while allowing us to socialize and expand our connections.”

According to a junior owner of an AI product, Talal Alkharashi, “The experience was amazing. Every day felt like I learned something new or enhanced my knowledge in the areas that I already know. Gaining this deep understanding of the fundamentals of AI has helped me shape and enhance the product I sell in many ways.”

“Gaining this deep understanding of the fundamentals of AI has helped me shape and enhance the product I sell.”

He also appreciated the intensive format of the course. “A full day of pure learning and practice has been a new experience for me and it helped me understand and focus only on the course.”

The top students from the introductory bootcamp are selected to attend an advanced course in AI. Then, from this group, about 15 students are offered a place either at a summer training camp at Oxford University or an internship at KAUST, thanks to sponsorship by two of the KAUST Academy partners.

The academy is also offering a professional master’s degree in AI for people in the workforce, for which there was a first intake of Ministry of the Interior employees earlier this month. Meanwhile, a professional master’s degree in data science and analytics is already being piloted with Aramco, with the first group due to complete the Riyadh-based 18-month course in July, 2023.

Courses can be tailored for particular clients based on their needs. For example, an AI course for chemists, created for Aramco, focused on AI applications to chemistry and included examples and datasets from real-life chemistry applications.

The academy currently runs courses in cybersecurity, bioinformatics, materials science, applied and computational mathematics and business analytics, with two more courses planned for release in 2023. These courses will cover sustainability and the internet of things and robotics.

Partners include the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence, Saudi National Cybersecurity Authority, Saudi Industrial Development Fund, King Faisal Specialist Hospital, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, Aramco and Saudi government ministries.