‘To the Future’: Saudi Arabia Spends Big to Become an A.I. Superpower

On a Monday morning last month, tech executives, engineers and sales representatives from Amazon, Google, TikTok and other companies endured a three-hour traffic jam as their cars crawled toward a mammoth conference at an event space in the desert, 50 miles outside Riyadh.

The lure: billions of dollars in Saudi money as the kingdom seeks to build a tech industry to complement its oil dominance.

To bypass the congestion, frustrated eventgoers drove onto the highway shoulder, kicking up plumes of desert sand as they sped past those following traffic rules. A lucky few took advantage of a special freeway exit dedicated to “V.V.I.P.s” — very, very important people.

“To the Future,” a sign read on the approach to the event, called Leap.

A view of Riyadh from Al-Faisaliah Tower.Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

One of the booths at the Leap conference, which was attended by executives, engineers and salespeople from Google, Amazon, TikTok and others.Credit…Iman Al-Dabbagh for The New York Times

More than 200,000 people converged at the conference, including Adam Selipsky, chief executive of Amazon’s cloud computing division, who announced a $5.3 billion investment in Saudi Arabia for data centers and artificial intelligence technology. Arvind Krishna, the chief executive of IBM, spoke of what a government minister called a “lifetime friendship” with the kingdom. Executives from Huawei and dozens of other firms made speeches. More than $10 billion in deals were done there, according to Saudi Arabia’s state press agency.

Back to top button