First Global Smart City Forum Launches in KSA

The inaugural edition of the Global Smart City Forum in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, organized by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) in partnership with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, commenced on 12 February 2024 at the Riyadh Arena under the theme ‘A Better Life.’ The event boasted the participation of over 100 speakers from 40 countries worldwide. Attended by several dignitaries including highnesses, excellencies, ministers, experts in smart cities and artificial intelligence, policymakers in economics, as well as top officials from government and private sectors, the forum also welcomed investors from across the globe.

The forum was held under the auspices of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA). This initiative aligns with his vision to position the Kingdom as a leader in data-driven and AI-based economies. Through the forum, SDAIA, serving as the national authority on data and AI in the Kingdom, aims to cultivate a forward-thinking vision for the future of global urban landscapes, including those within Saudi Arabia.

The event began with the largest visual presentation in which more than 101 exhibitors representing various nationalities participated, highlighting the qualitative leap that the world’s cities will witness by transforming into smart cities. It showcased the advanced services that stand to offer people the opportunity of a better life, in addition to the advanced technologies represented by artificial intelligence that facilitate these cities, contributing to building a modern human-centred environment.

His Excellency the President of the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA), Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, said in his speech: “Today we stand at a crossroads between tradition and innovation, and we remember that while we can reach the sky with data and technology, our feet are still firmly planted in serving our citizens and the residents of our cities. At this forum, we have more than 100 speakers representing 40 different countries, joining us over the next two days to achieve three goals: Foreseeing smart sustainable cities in the future, promoting smart government initiatives globally, and motivating companies to invest in building smart solutions.”

“During this global forum, we will discuss important topics including the role of technologies in global cities, the future of urban mobility and traffic solutions, innovations in shaping the cities of the future, planning for green and sustainable cities in the next decade, and more. As we started building the National Smart Cities Platform (Smart C) in the past few years to implement the vision of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of (SDAIA), we are very grateful for his guidance. It has been instrumental in achieving great results in line with his future vision for the Kingdom,” he added.

He went on to explain that in 2023, the joint efforts of government agencies using the National Smart Cities Platform (Smart C) contributed to reducing traffic congestion on the road network of a site that hosted a huge conference in Riyadh by 36%, compared to 2022. He also mentioned that algorithms and models were developed for the continuous detection of visual pollution in the streets, using weekly snapshots of major cities in Saudi Arabia, in cooperation with the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, in an initiative to support national efforts to sustain urban landscapes in the Kingdom and improve the quality of life.

He also highlighted that during the last Hajj season, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, SDAIA supported traffic and crowd management through advanced analytics and artificial intelligence solutions. This contributed to national efforts to increase the per capita share of green spaces by 9%, using the capabilities of the Smart C platform to detect and monitor the level of afforestation in the city of Riyadh.

In conclusion, he added, “We believe in the importance of strengthening the smart city ecosystem to enable sustainable growth, and one example includes: the launch of the Smart Cities Accelerator with strong participation from local and international startups, as this initiative created business opportunities in the field of smart cities and facilitated the access of more than 100 teams from 39 universities to the market. We launched the Smart Challenge during the Global AI Summit in cooperation with our partners, to provide modern solutions to improve the urban landscape, with the participation of more than 16,000 contestants from more than 90 countries, to create 650 actual solutions to real problems. This unveiled that the development of the national digital identity platform “Nafath” and the comprehensive application Tawakkalna led to saving the equivalent of 19 days per year of individual time, stressing that through our union in this endeavour, we offer much more than just urban space planning, as we plant the seeds of a safe, more efficient and sustainable future for a ’better life!’”

Following the opening remarks, His Excellency the Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs, Mr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Hogail, delivered a speech in which he stressed that the concept of “smart cities” is not just about equipping urban areas with technology, it requires the creation of environmental ecosystems that integrate municipal services, transportation, education, health, tourism, and other businesses and services. This ensures that they are designed to improve the quality of life of the population, aligning with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, as the specific path for our transformation journey. Through this, we have worked to launch a strategy aimed at urban growth, envisioning cities as vibrant, sustainable development, and technology centres, where people are enabled to achieve.

The CEO of Fira Barcelona, Ricard Zapatero, also addressed the gathering, saying: “For the first time, the Global Smart City Forum has partnered with SDAIA to bring this platform to Riyadh. SDAIA and our Saudi partners were the key participants in the Global Smart City Forum in Barcelona, where we started an initiative to improve the lives of people around the world through smart city policies.

He added: ” In collaboration with SDAIA, we are proud to host this distinguished forum in Riyadh, aligning with numerous global gatherings to foster a remarkable network of successful initiatives. Over these two days, we welcome leading experts and influential thinkers in the field of smart city development to participate in a series of discussions, dialogues, and actionable strategies. Our aim extends beyond mere conversation. We are dedicated to bringing together the brightest minds to collaborate and innovate, with the unified goal of enhancing our quality of life through smart city policies and practices.

The CEO and Founder of NVIDIA, Jensen Huang, then followed in his address, stating, “Recent achievements in the field of artificial intelligence have enabled the creation of systems that make cities safer, more efficient, and more sustainable while saving as much energy as possible. In this regard, NVIDIA has created large-scale real-time video analytics systems that combine the latest technology in computer vision, object recognition, and semantic analysis capable of helping everyone create city platforms. This also includes innovations ranging from object detection and recognition, post-estimation, particle analysis, and one of the most recent achievements; visual language models that allow speaking primarily to video. Now, it is possible to talk to a video broadcast and look for any anomalies or disruptive elements. All these technologies work on NVIDIA GPUs, and we have a platform called Metropolis that enables the creation of these systems on a very large scale with high performance through the application of the latest models of artificial intelligence.”

The President of the Seoul Digital Foundation, Dr. Yu-Sik Kang, contributed to the proceedings, saying: “Saudi Arabia and Korea are working to strengthen relations of brotherhood and interdependence. The Seoul Digital Foundation has three main objectives: leading the charge on artificial intelligence, big data, and cloud technologies, enhancing the global competitiveness of smart cities by supporting startups, and achieving the establishment of a city that complies with digital inclusion policies, welcoming partners to join in these efforts.”

His Highness Prince Dr. Faisal bin Abdulaziz bin Ayyaf, Mayor of Riyadh Region, participated in a dialogue session entitled “Leading Innovation and Sustainable Progress: Smart Cities Use Cases in Transforming Riyadh’s Urban Landscape,” as part of the forum’s agenda. During this discussion, His Highness stressed that Riyadh will soon become a global model across all fields, indicating that the city is hard at work on a comprehensive transformation journey and a clear strategy based on the ambitions of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince and Prime Minister. These efforts are leading great movements in the capital, marking significant progress in the realm of transformation with each passing day.

His Highness went on to say, “Riyadh will surprise everyone; our ambition is unmatched, and we are determined to achieve it. We are blessed to have the great potential that any city would dream of. We are also driven by great leadership, His Highness the Crown Prince – may God protect him – who significantly motivates Riyadh’s plans for success. This encompasses extensive plans, programs, and large projects that are reshaping the city, which will soon make Riyadh a role model for the entire world.”

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