His Royal Highness Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II's Keynote Address at TechWadi Annual Forum 2020
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
Thank you, Sharif, and thank you to TechWadi for bringing us together.
I know that, at first glance, it may seem that we come from different worlds. Mine is about public service, diplomacy and the military. Yours is defined by technology, innovation, and business. Thousands of miles and a vast ocean separate this stage and the place I call home.
Yet, the connection between Silicon Valley and the Arab world is natural. After all, the Arab world is the original start-up garage.
We developed modern algebra. We created the first algorithms. We invented Arabic numerals—but apparently Silicon Valley only needed ones and zeroes to change the world!
You don’t need me to tell you that technology has transformed the world as we know it. And we know that with transformation can come trepidation. Certainly, that has been the case with technology.
Whether the result of unintended consequences, unchecked power, or intentional abuse, your industry is now in crisis. You are grappling with the loss of the public’s trust and facing difficult questions.
Where I come from, we know a thing or two about how to get through crises and make tough choices. We’ve weathered a financial crisis and regional instability. We are surrounded by conflict, and as a result, we’ve had a massive influx of refugees.
Today, Jordan is one of the largest hosts of refugees in the world.
We made a choice. We opened our borders. Did it make economic sense? Absolutely not. Our national debt grew, as did our rate of unemployment. Housing, food, energy, healthcare, education—all felt the pressure.
We did it for a very simple reason: it was the right thing to do. For some, politics is about power. For us, it’s about people.
But then, so is technology. In fact, technology has the most personal relationship with humanity. What you create may often be intangible, but its influence on our lives is anything but. And it is not just in how we conduct our every day; you are shaping individual perspectives and our collective conscience. You influence how people interact with one another, and how they feel about each other.
Of all sectors, you have the most impact on society. So, you must ask yourselves: what happens if the industry that is shaping the future of the human experience doesn’t put humanity first? That is not a question anyone can afford to ignore.
And so, we must put people at the heart of technological progress; look at the impact of products on society’s balance sheet; and pair profit with purpose.
Let that be the next big tech trend: humanity. It is the right thing, and it is the smart thing. Today, as you well know, employees are demanding more than just a pay-check, and consumers want more than just another product. They want purpose.
That is why the technology industry has a duty to upgrade and update our collective moral code—literally and figuratively.
Don’t worry; I’m not an idealist. I don’t believe in prescriptive guidelines and solutions. And I know there is no one way to do this--no checklists, no predictable process, no “if this then that” rules.
In fact, in my short experience, I’ve learnt that changing rules and laws is often the easy part. Changing mind-sets is challenging, but it is possible. It’s possible when great minds, like those gathered here, come together and decide to prioritise it.
But first, you’ll need the right partners. Partners like my country, Jordan. Yes, here comes the pitch…
Let me start by firmly breaking a stereotype: Jordan is a safe, welcoming, and generous country. My fellow Jordanians in the audience can attest to that. Better yet, you can come see for yourself.
Yet, too often, the story of Jordan is hidden in the shadows of our region’s conflicts. The Middle East is home to some of modern history’s worst humanitarian crises. And peace has been painfully illusive.
No one knows that better than my family. My grandfather, King Hussein, spent the final months of his life working for peace, and my father, King Abdullah, continues to fight with courageous diplomacy and leadership for a just and comprehensive peace. As he recently said, it is the harder but higher path.
Our people need to imagine a different and better future. They are defined not by what has been, but by what can be.
Particularly our youth, who are coming of age now. Not only do we have the world’s second-youngest population, but the share of the working-age population is at its highest now and will be for the next 20 years. This is a most promising period for our region.
Our young, talented workforce is hungry for careers in technology. In Jordan alone, 22 per cent of college graduates today major in either engineering or information and communications technology.
By partnering with us and with the Arab world, you’ll help us train young Arabs for the industries of the future. But you’ll also stand to gain. Silicon Valley needs coders, programmers, and engineers. And Arab coders, programmers, and engineers need jobs.
The solution to both problems is clear—which is why so many tech giants are already expanding their presence in the Arab world, and, in turn, their reach into new, untapped markets. Today, Amazon and Microsoft run regional tech operations out of Jordan. Saudi Arabia is building a vibrant start-up ecosystem. And Egypt is partnering with IBM on digital transformation.
Still, a partnership with our region can deliver much more.
Take AI; we’ve all seen the headlines—how data is being used to reflect the worst of human biases back to us. The solution is not as simple as creating a more diverse data set, but rather building a truly diverse team.
Or take Natural Language Processing. Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world, and the fourth most used language online. But for computers to understand Arabic, you need humans who speak it.
The young women and men of the Arab world are eager to help and to go beyond better communication to greater understanding. Together, I believe we can help people understand one another and connect with one another.
As the Holy Quran teaches us: “O mankind. We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.”
We must know one another, because true progress cannot happen without people, and humanity can only move forward when we find new ways to work together. And we can. We are brave enough, and bold enough to invent any future we choose.