From right to left: Dr. Essam Al-Wequit, Prince Bandar bin Abdullah bin Mishari, and Dr. Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, leading the attendees at the Saudi Data Forum, which opened on Monday in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia’s AI Ethics Principles 2.0: A New Era of AI Governance

The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) has recently unveiled the second iteration of its AI Ethics Principles (AI Principles 2.0). This marks a significant step in establishing a principle-based ethical framework for the development and use of AI technologies in Saudi Arabia.

The Seven Principles

The framework is anchored on seven principles and accompanying controls: Fairness, Privacy & Security, Humanity, Social & Environmental Benefits, Reliability & Safety, Transparency & Explainability, and Accountability & Responsibility. This principles-based approach to compliance demonstrates SDAIA’s commitment to a holistic and evolving compliance regime, as opposed to a static check-box style approach. These principles and controls are to be applied throughout the entire lifecycle of an AI project, from the design and planning phase to the deployment and monitoring phase.

Scope and Application

The AI Principles apply equally to all public, private, and non-profit AI stakeholders within the Kingdom, whether they are developers, designers, users, or individuals affected by AI systems. However, there is some ambiguity in terms of application, as the scope of application seems to be obligatory in some instances and optional in others. Clarity on this aspect will be essential moving forward.

Changes from Version 1.0

Interestingly, the previous version of the AI Principles (Version 1.0, 2022) envisaged a limited waiver/exception to certain aspects of the framework. This has not been retained in AI Principles 2.0. The removal of the exception/waiver suggests that SDAIA views ethical considerations as fundamental aspects that must underpin all AI projects within Saudi Arabia without exception.

Risk Categorization and Compliance

The new version of the AI Principles introduces a tiered AI risks categorization system based on the associated risks with the development and use of AI systems and technologies. AI systems that are categorized as having little or no risks need not comply with the AI Principles (although it is recommended); AI systems that are categorized as having either limited risk or high risk are required to comply with the AI principles and additional controls (as applicable); and AI systems that are deemed to have unacceptable risk are prohibited and cannot be developed.

Self-Assessment and Compliance

The AI Principles provide a number of self-assessment tools for assessing and mapping AI risks against the principles. Adopting entities are primarily responsible for ensuring their own compliance with the AI Principles and are required to appoint certain key roles for assessing and monitoring compliance, including a Responsible AI Officer (RAIO) and an AI System Assessor.

In addition to the self-assessment tools, adopting entities are encouraged to register with SDAIA under an optional registration scheme. Registered entities will be motivated to ensure high levels of compliance through a ‘badge’ system that reflects their commitment to compliance. This system seems intended to influence end users in identifying trustworthy AI tools and technologies.

The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) is the competent authority in Saudi Arabia concerned with data and AI, including big data. It is the national reference for all matters related to the regulation, development, and handling of data and AI. SDAIA is also responsible for operations, research, and innovation in the data and AI sector. It plays a crucial role in establishing a principle-based ethical framework for the development and use of AI technologies in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Data Forum

The Saudi Data Forum, organized by the SDAIA in partnership with the National Transformation Program, kicked off recently. The event was attended by Dr. Bandar Meshari, assistant minister of interior for technology affairs, and Dr. Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, president of SDAIA. Dr. Essam Al-Weqait, director of the National Information Center at SDAIA, highlighted the strategic collaboration between SDAIA and the NTP in support of digital initiatives in his speech.