ASTANA – President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivered remarks at the annual Digital Bridge Forum in Astana on Oct. 12 outlining priority areas for the development of artificial intelligence (AI) in Kazakhstan.
The forum, which will continue through Oct. 12, gathered more than 20,000 participants, representatives of more than 300 IT companies and delegations from 30 countries. Such big interest in the event, according to Tokayev, “confirms Kazakhstan’s strong position as a leading digital and fintech hub in the Eurasian space.”
“AI is no longer science fiction, but a reality. A new era is unfolding before our eyes. AI technology is as revolutionary as electricity and the internet were in their time. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way people live, automate numerous work processes, and generate substantial economic value,” he said.
He cited expert estimates which indicate the potential contribution of AI to the global economy is comparable to a quarter of global GDP.
“The widespread use of this technology can become the most important factor in the progressive development of Kazakhstan. To do this, it is necessary to create all conditions for the development of AI as soon as possible,” said Tokayev.
Priorities for AI development in Kazakhstan
One of the first tasks in this effort for Kazakhstan will be developing a strategic document defining the scope, tasks and tools for the development of AI.
“I believe that first of all, we should focus on introducing AI technologies in industries that are significant for our economy, such as the oil and gas sector, energy, agriculture, transport and logistics. AI can significantly optimize the process of transforming our cities into full-fledged smart cities, comfortable for living and working,” said Tokayev.
Kazakhstan also needs to accelerate the development of a legal regulatory framework in AI, as more than 120 countries around the world have done. Tokayev sees this move as a potential pool factor for international companies to enter the Kazakh market.
“It is necessary to maintain a balance of interests and create open and fair rules of the game,” he added, also warning of the importance of ensuring the protection of personal data.
Tokayev tasked the government to build data centers specializing in AI within two years. Не involved global players such as Amazon, Google, Mastercard and Citigroup in this work.
“During a recent trip to New York, I met with the management of these companies, and appropriate agreements were reached. It is also important to develop a data ecosystem for AI. Big data is essentially the fuel for AI,” he said.
Kazakhstan will also create the National AI Platform next year, which will combine data from the state and large businesses. Tokayev also moved the deadline for the 5G network introduction from 2027 to 2025.
The Kazakh leader also reiterated the need to equip people with digital skills from an early age. Citing the Astana Hub education programs as an example, he said similar programs can be launched in schools.
“The use of AI opens up new horizons of opportunities for inclusive and sustainable development. Global competition in this area is gaining momentum. Kazakhstan should not remain on the sidelines of these trends. This is the demand of the times,” said Tokayev.
Using the opportunities presented by AI was also one of the tenets in Tokayev’s state-of-the-nation address on Sept. 1, when he said doing so can help Kazakhstan make a leap toward a knowledge-based economy.
Digital solutions in Kazakhstan surpass developed economies
Tim Draper, an American venture capital investor whose Draper University runs an accelerator program for Kazakh tech startups, commended Kazakhstan’s IT journey. He said many digital solutions in Kazakhstan surpass the most developed economies, including the United States.
Draper mentioned the success of Kaspi.kz fintech firm, which has been at the forefront of technological innovation in the financial sector. Its success has encouraged other firms and startups to explore and adopt fintech solutions, leading to increased innovation and competition in the industry.
Addressing the forum participants, Draper recalled his first visit to Kazakhstan six years ago when he met the Astana Hub team.
“I was impressed by their energy. It was the time when Astana Hub was just developing,” said Draper.
The American investor has made hundreds of early investments in cutting-edge companies such as Tesla. He shared some stories about his early investments in China and Estonia.
“I was among the first venture investors from Silicon Valley who invested in China. When China became a magical unicorn, only then investors followed in big numbers,” he said.
He was also among the early investors in Skype before the company became a significant success, ultimately being acquired by eBay and later by Microsoft.
Cooperation between Kazakhstan and TikTok gains momentum
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew also delivered a keynote address at the plenary session. He said TikTok has become accessible in the Kazakh language this year.
“I am here for the first time, and it is very interesting for me to learn first-hand the rich heritage of Kazakhstan,” said Shou Zi Chew.
He emphasized the mission of TikTok is to “inspire creativity and bring people joy,” and amid the rapid development of AI, the mission will remain the same.
“More than one billion people from 150 countries can express themselves, and with TikTok, one can explore the world. This is a kind of canvas where you can paint anything and a bridge that unites communities all around the world,” he said.
Thousands of people from Kazakhstan used TikTok to celebrate the Nauryz holiday in March. Shou Zi Chew also said last year, TikTok and the Kazakh ministers launched the hashtag #TravelKazakhstan to promote the videos of the breathtaking scenery of Kazakhstan.