Estonian minister at World Economic Forum: AI will be a great equalizer for society

  • 2024-05-05
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - Last week at the World Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia, Estonian Minister of Economy and IT Tiit Riisalo said that artificial intelligence is to become an equalizer in society.

"Those who want to be at the forefront of technology must take certain risks," Riisalo said during a panel discussion of CNBC news channel. "If we make the right decisions, artificial intelligence will become a great equalizer for society. It provides tremendous access to global knowledge, and going forward, specific knowledge won't be necessary for being a high-level user of technology. Although artificial intelligence was not invented in Estonia, our strength as an innovator is the early adoption of new technology. Estonia aims to become a superuser of artificial intelligence. Our goal is not so much the trillions that AI usage could add to the global economy, but rather its application for the benefit of our people."

The discussion was moderated by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, with Sony Group President Hiroaki Kitano, Norwegian energy company Aker President Oyvind Eriksen, Rwandan Minister of ICT and Innovation Paula Ingabire, and Saudi Arabian Minister of Communication and Information Technology Abdullah Alswaha also participating.

At the main stage of the economic forum, Riisalo participated in a panel discussion focused on the competitiveness of smart economies, discussing both the reliability of public services and the challenges nations face in adapting to new technology.

"The OECD has researched what the most important component in public sector trust is for people, and the answer is the quality of services. A great effort must be made to maintain this trust," Riisalo said.

The panel was moderated by Al Arabiya journalist Riz Khan, with participation from Bahrain's Minister of Finance and Economy Salman bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, German State Secretary Jorg Kukies, and Freeke Heijman, head of the Dutch national quantum technologies program at the Quantum Delta NL foundation.

On the sidelines of the forum, Riisalo met with Saudi Arabia's Minister of Communication and IT Abdullah bin Amer Alswaha and Secretary General of the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO) Deemah Alyahya, discussing potential IT cooperation between Estonia and Saudi Arabia. Meetings were also held with Huma CEO Dan Vahdat and Gecko Robotics CEO Jake Loosararian. The minister participated in a high-level lunch with top global leaders, discussing security in the Middle East. He also attended a global economic strategy session with representatives from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UN, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Outside the forum, Minister Riisalo visited the Saudi tax authority, Saudi Chambers of Commerce, and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). Discussions at the tax authority and the research center focused on digital development cooperation opportunities with Estonian entrepreneurs. The Saudi Chambers of Commerce signed a memorandum of understanding with the Estonian Business and Innovation Agency, creating the opportunity to establish a Saudi-Estonian business council.

Riisalo attended the World Economic Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from April 27 to 29. 

Trade between Estonia and Saudi Arabia last year amounted to 54.3 million euros, which was 0.1 percent of total trade, ranking 46th among countries. Estonia exported goods to the tune of 29.3 million euros to Saudi Arabia last year, making up 0.2 percent of total exports and ranking Estonia as the 45th export partner. The main export items were plant products, machinery and equipment, and wood products. Service exports last year amounted to 9.5 million euros, and imports were four million euros. Telecommunications, computer, and information services were exported the most, valued at 7.6 million euros. Service imports the preceding year were 2.3 million euros, thus annual growth has been 74 percent, driven last year by telecommunications, computer, and information services, worth 2.2 million euros. In 2022, 69 Estonian companies exported to Saudi Arabia.