Musings From Dubai Lynx 2018: MENA Needs More AI Solutions Working On Arabic Content

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If the Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity -MENA's annual gathering for the creative communications industry- was all about big data and influencers in 2017, the topics discussed at the just-concluded Dubai Lynx 2018 were all surrounding Artificial Intelligence (AI). It seems that the market picks on the buzz words very easily but reality is that AI is here to stay- and I was specifically intrigued by this week's announcement of Salma.

In case you are wondering who or what it is, Salma is an Arabic Siri-like AI assistant  that Jordan-based startup introduced at Dubai Lynx 2018. In my opinion, Salma is a worldwide promise as it will bridge the gap between different dialects of Arabic language for Arabic natural language processing. If you heard of Google Home, Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri, you know who Salma is. 

I find Salma to be very important for the Middle East because it gives priority to Arabic language. Whilst big global players advance in their technology and sophisticate its enhancements, it has not been properly done in Arabic yet. Startups in the region are just scratching the surface with their involvement in AI, and especially when they cater to Arabic language. Many of them are doing really well. For example, the UAE-based Narrativa is always on my radar when it comes to delivering AI solutions.

At the event, I also met a couple of other companies which are really tackling interesting parts of AI, such Intuition Intelligence thaat can predict what digital content and topics can go viral, what movies will have impact and so on. This has a tremendous effect on media budgeting and decision making.

Image credit: Endeavor Jordan on Twitter.

However, Salma is not only digging deep by covering the Arabic language with all the systems for machine learning being put in place. It sits on nothing less than 35 million unique users a month already (42 million worldwide), which will enable a lot more accuracy in mapping the language, different variations of the content in terms of sentence similarities, context, linguistic classification and sentiment analysis. 

Salma's creator Mawdoo3 is a region-based startup which, in my view, has positioned itself as more of a doer than a hype. The team have built an Arabic online encyclopedia, covering the gap of quality content in the region, in a very short span of time. Soon enough, they ranked #1 in the region and around the world. As a content platform, it has been doubling its size month on month, and this exponential growth happens due to a few very simple reason, and they are not money-related: 

1. It is the vision of the founders, Mohammed Jaber and Rami Al-Quawasmi, to present it less as a content platform and more as a tech company intended to support Arabic content consumption. 

2. The management style they have in place is not based only on “recruit entrepreneurs”, as they explain it, but showing that the founders themselves know how to walk the talk.

Of course, investments will follow when a great vision and sound management are aligned with top execution. 

If you think this is impressive, a little less impressive is that most of the people in my circle of Arabic-speaking friends have not heard about Mawdoo3 yet. However, the fact that people are still getting to know about it means that they can grow a lot more. If there’s one thing most entrepreneurs focus a lot on is to blast in PR, events and interviews more than actually running the business. It is done because every entrepreneur aspires to be successful, which is understandable, however, the Mawdoo3 team is simply different, and their results are here to prove it.

So, apparently Mawdoo3 has a big responsibility to lead in raising awareness on the importance of Arabic language in the world through its technology and content creation. Therefore, Salma is a big step coming from the region and for the region and we all expect it to be successful. 

Whether Salma will disrupt the region and the world, we are yet to see. However, supporting growth-oriented businesses that are heavily investing in AI technology is our duty in this region. Such support can only enhance AI-related startups and companies who need to cater better to Arabic language or to have more robust solutions to cater to the Arab world.

Related: How Artificial Intelligence Can Improve Your Marketing Strategy