Companies in Africa and the Middle East are building AI capacity in very different ways, a new study found.

What’s new: AI is growing fast in both regions despite shortages of talent and data, according to MIT Technology Review Insights, the research arm of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s magazine. Yet the implementations in each region reflect stark differences in economic development.

What it says: The report focuses on wealthy countries in the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as African tech hotspots in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria.

  • Across both regions, 82 percent of respondents use AI in their business.
  • Many Gulf-based companies are using AI to help shift their business away from oil and toward innovation.
  • African AI startups tend to focus on meeting domestic challenges like access to food or medicine.
  • Many African companies provide AI-based services like ride-hailing and credit scoring to lower-income individuals and small businesses.
  • Over half of respondents said AI is saving them money, and 44 percent believe that the technology will drive a quarter of their operations by 2023.

Growing pains: AI adoption hasn’t been smooth sailing. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they’ve struggled to apply AI in their business. Nearly as many cited difficulty obtaining high-quality data. Africa and the Middle East are also struggling to find talent, with 40 percent of respondents noting a shortage of AI professionals in the regions.

Why it matters: AI could prove to be a boon for individuals, and the planet at large, by helping to lift African economies and wean Middle Eastern ones from reliance on oil.

We’re thinking: The Persian Gulf is one of the world’s richest regions, and sub-Saharan Africa its poorest. The fact that both are turning to AI says a lot about the technology’s potential to streamline existing economies and foster new ones.

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