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Saudi Arabia taps into Hong Kong AI firm

Ayman AlRashed, CEO of SCAI, and George Huang, CEO of international business and acting SenseTime MEA CEO, at the signing ceremony Supplied
Ayman Al Rashed, CEO of SCAI, left, and George Huang, CEO of international business and acting SenseTime MEA CEO, at the signing ceremony
  • $206m joint venture with SenseTime
  • Focus on R&D and AI ecosystem
  • Kingdom’s gigaprojects AI and data testbeds

SenseTime, a Hong Kong-based AI software giant, will launch a joint venture in Saudi Arabia as part of the kingdom’s plan to be among the world’s top 15 countries for the adoption of artificial intelligence by 2030.

The Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence (SCAI), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), today revealed a SR776 million ($206 million) investment with SenseTime Group through a joint venture to establish SenseTime MEA.

SCAI, which aims to accelerate key national technological priorities in Saudi Arabia, will work with SenseTime to build a sophisticated AI lab, create skilled jobs for Saudis, and contribute to positioning the kingdom as the region’s leading AI tech hub.

The project will develop solutions across diverse areas including smart city, business intelligence, healthcare and education domains. 

A statement said the AI lab will serve as a dedicated research and development centre, “allowing the next generation of data scientists to benefit from the transfer of technology and SenseTime’s expertise in the field”.

It added that SenseTime MEA “will focus on empowering the local AI ecosystem by building capabilities in computer vision and driving innovation in the AI and emerging technologies sectors”.

Ayman AlRashed, CEO of SCAI, which launched in January, said: “We are pleased to enter into this joint venture with a global pioneer of SenseTime’s calibre. 

“Today’s agreement represents an important strategic step on SCAI’s journey to develop national capabilities and build a robust, innovation-driven AI ecosystem. 

“We look forward to working closely to provide world-class AI solutions that will contribute to the success of diverse smart city, business intelligence, healthcare, and education initiatives in the kingdom and beyond.”

Dr Xu Li, executive chairman and CEO of SenseTime, added: “It’s exciting to see the rapid digital transformation that Saudi Arabia is undertaking, especially in the development of an AI ecosystem. 

“SenseTime and SCAI share the same vision of creating a better society and improving people’s lives through the use of AI. 

“Our partnership will contribute to the realisation of the Vision 2030 objectives and be a driving engine of next-generation cities across the kingdom.”

Founded in Hong Kong in 2014, SenseTime researches AI and develops scalable AI software platforms.

Saudi Arabia has placed artificial intelligence at the heart of the country’s development and growth. 

Under its National Strategy for Data & AI (NSDAI), the kingdom aims to implement a multi-phase, multi-faceted plan that includes skills, policy and regulation, investment, research and innovation, and ecosystem development. 

NSDAI wants to train and host more than 20,000 data and AI specialists and experts by 2030, while investing $20 billion in data and AI. 

It also seeks to foster a business-friendly regulatory environment, with plans to attract more than 300 active data and AI startups to the kingdom by the end of the decade. 

Upcoming Saudi gigaprojects including NEOM, Qiddiya and the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program will provide testbeds and living laboratories for advanced AI and data-driven concepts and applications. 

It has already implemented a data infrastructure with a centralised ecosystem of resources to support government agencies to complete their AI initiatives including a national data bank.

SCAI’s mandate is aligned with PIF’s strategy, which focuses on 13 priority sectors, including the technology sector.