Saudi tech experts bring futuristic AI technology closer to reality

RIYADH: Saudi tech experts are putting the latest developments in artificial intelligence into the hands of gamers taking part in a major international festival in the Kingdom.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) has partnered with the Saudi Sports Federation for the Gamers8 event taking place in Riyadh to showcase the latest advances in augmented and virtual reality technologies.

And Ahmed Abdulrahman, the immersive lab manager at Ithra’s Creative Solutions program, believes the futuristic artificial intelligence seen in many current sci-fi movies could become available to the public within five to 10 years.


The interior of the GameDev Zone, buzzing with eager and curious Saudis looking to try out the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in Riyadh. (Supplied)

Technologies showcased at the festival focus not only on gaming, but also on interactive and immersive experiences, entertainment and learning.

Abdulrahman noted that the type of VR equipment seen in Steven Spielberg’s 2018 adventure film “Ready Player One” was already available. Ithra even had a Teslassuit and haptic glove (technology that can create a touch experience by applying forces, vibrations and motion to the user) that members of the public could test out.

QUICKFACTS

• One of Ithra’s winning projects, “Rain Forecasting,” allows people to feel the rain while wearing a VR headset.

• Ithra even had a tesla suit and haptic glove (technology that can create a touch experience by applying forces, vibrations and movement to the user) that members of the public could test out.

“We can put people in some games that use all the technologies together, where they can walk around and feel every stroke in the game. It’s full immersion. It’s not 2045, it’s 2022,” he told Arab News.


The interior of the GameDev Zone, buzzing with eager and curious Saudis looking to try out the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in Riyadh. (Supplied)

At Riyadh Boulevard City, where Gamers8 is in full swing, Creative Solutions’ GameDev area features prototype games developed in 72 hours or less, as well as five previous program batch-winning designs, plus internationally developed video games.

While the available VR experiences aren’t fully featured, they still allow visitors to get the general idea behind the immersive stories.

One of the Ithra winners’ projects, The Anticipation of Rain, allows people to feel the rain by wearing a VR headset. Its developer, Naima Karim, tells how she was paralyzed at a young age but discovered her love for painting through the influence of rain. “There were so many people who were so touched by it, they just took off their headphones to cry,” Abdulrahman said.

Other AR projects take users on a journey through the history of the universe or on a mission to find hidden objects, similar to the mobile game “Pokemon GO”.


The main entrance to the GameDev Zone of Ithra’s creative solutions in partnership with the world’s largest Esports festival, Gamers8, in the city of Riyadh Boulevard. (Supplied)

Next to the booths of the five area winners are a selection of internationally developed gaming software, including The Climb 2, Loco Dojo, Beat Saber and a Playroom PS5.

Filipe Gomez, curator of the Creative Solutions program, told Arab News: “There are developers who are talking about a future where no screen will exist. Everything will be designed.”

Amr Bogari, a concept artist and AI enthusiast, said: “This reflects a good mental image over time and is expected from our government, as it is a great supporter of this development and progress that moves humanity forward.

“But, in general, it depends on a person’s usage. The abundance of technology can diminish the spiritual aspect, and this is true in many examples. Our role is to create a moderate space that blends reality and assumption.”

In the GameDev area, Gomez said: “The level of engagement from the public was incredible. To me, it really reflects a desire to learn, develop and prepare. The creativity is there.”

The Ithra program team aims to create unique experiences that people of all backgrounds can enjoy.

Abdulrahman said: “They are all proud. That’s the only word I can say. Everyone who’s trying them out, when they see them, they’re just amazed at the quality of the work, even though we call them prototypes.”

And the goal of the program was to establish Saudi Arabia as the leading diving center in the region, and perhaps the world.

“It’s up to us and stakeholders like Ithra to push a specific agenda that really cares about how people will be impacted through this transformation, to prepare them to be good decision makers. When it comes to creative solutions, they create humanistic solutions,” Gomez added.

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